12 Years a Slave is based on an incredible true story of an African American man’s fight for survival and freedom during the years leading up to the Civil War. Directed by British filmmaker Steve McQueen (of African descent himself), 12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free Black man from upstate New York who is abducted and sold into slavery.
McQueen (Shame, Hunger) said he had wanted to do a film about slavery in America for years but couldn’t locate the right “vehicle” or story. Then his wife stumbled upon Northup’s autobiography written in 1853. He soon became passionate about bringing the story of a classical violinist from upstate New York who was drugged and sold into slavery to the big screen.
In 1841, Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a free Black man living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. He makes his living playing the violin. One day he is lured into a lucrative touring gig by a pair of men (Scoot McNairy and Michael Killam). After a night out in Washington, D.C. with the two men, Northup awakens to find himself chained to the floor. In shock of what has happened, Northup realizes he has been drugged and sold into slavery.
Now under the name of Platt, Northup is transported by ferry to New Orleans. There, he is purchased as a slave by plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Enduring his new life, Northup stays on good terms with Ford as he assists him by engineering a waterway for transporting materials more swiftly. Northup’s ability to play the violin is also discovered, with Ford providing him with a violin. Because of his success on the plantation, overseer John Tibeats (Paul Dano) becomes jealous of Northup leading to many quarrels between the two.
Eventually, Northup is handed over to another plantation run by abusive slave driver Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Northup’s main duties are now picking cotton, at which he is expected to collect 200 pounds each day; otherwise, he is savagely beaten. The slave who constantly picks the most cotton is Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), a gentle woman that is the center of Epps’ affection, despite his distressingly aware wife (Sarah Paulson).
Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but also to retain his dignity. In the 12th year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) forever changes his life.
One day, while working in the fields, Northup is called out by the local sheriff. Inquiring about Northup’s past life, the sheriff asks a series of questions to match him to his profile. Northup is then taken off the plantation—much to Epps’ dismay. After being enslaved for 12 years, Northup is finally released and returned back to his family.
Slave dealer William H. Birch paid the kidnappers $250 for Northup and then sold him into slavery. Recently a little-known site in Alexandria, Va. has come to light as a major slave-trading hub on the East Coast with a unique connection to 12 Years a Slave. This has sparked a new interest from visitors and historians. The site is where slave dealer Birch once operated a slave auction, but it now houses the Freedom House Museum. Curators say the film could bring new recognition of this rare slave jail site standing near the U.S. Capitol—now as a place to learn about American history. It’s been open to visitors for five years.
12 Years a Slave is rated ‘R’ and runs for two hours, 13 minutes. It is now playing at the Regal 16 Theatre in Green Hills.