12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 years a slave poster 2013 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 10/10
Visuals: 9/10

Layered story about slavery and the struggles to be free

Slavery movies are tough on everyone

Movie Info

Movie Name: 12 Years a Slave

Studio:  Regency Enterprises

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s):  August 30, 2013 (Telluride Film Festival)/November 8, 2013 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

12 years a slave imprisoned solomon northup chiwetel ejiofor

I don’t ever want to hear anyone complain about a bad day after drinking…this didn’t happen to you

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was born free. Living in Saratoga Springs, New York, he is offered work in Washington, D.C. and after a night of merriment, he wakes up in chains. Solomon is told that his name is now Platt, and he is and always has been a slave. Bouncing from William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), Solomon just wants to get back home to the wife and family he loves, but an educated slave is probably in more danger than any other slave…and Solomon is testing fate.

Directed by Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave is a biographical historic film. The film is an adaptation of the memoir by Solomon Northup (July 10, 1807 or 1808 to 1857 or 1875) and was released to critical acclaim. The movie received the Academy Award for .

12 years a slave chiwetel ejiofor lynching

Sometimes death is easier than enduring…

I read 12 Years a Slave in 8th grade for a book report decades before the film’s release. I remember it being a rather grueling (though interesting) account of a slave from a slave’s perspective, but I also had no wish to revisit it. Watching 12 Years a Slave brings the problems and difficulties of making a film about slavery, but it does manage to feel like a new and different perspective.

The story has one of the tropes in film I hate. It features an innocent man essentially “framed”, but Northup is in a worse place than someone like Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive because his story is real. He also knows the freedom that those around him do not know and he not only has to escape, but he will have to leave others behind. Northup is essentially an outside “reporter” who has become part of the story. He sees the horrors experienced by the slaves and experiences them himself. The people he meets in his journey through the South are varied and feel real.

12 years a slave chiwetel ejiofor michael fassbender

Being smart isn’t always an advantage

Chiwetel Ejiofor is a good Northup. He has eyes just emoting the sadness and horror he’s seeing. His character has never grown up experiencing what those around him are experiencing, but has heard the tales…he’s lived a privileged life (though it is the life that white people take for granted). You have a tale of two slavers. Benedict Cumberbatch sees himself as “a good slaver” because he personally doesn’t take the punishment in his own hands…he’s bad but he keeps himself clean. Michael Fassbender isn’t afraid to be feared by his “property” and takes it out on him. His personal emotions are used to lash and maim…all the while he sleeps with Patsey played by Lupita Nyong’o in her award winning role. Nyong’o has the difficulties of juggling being seduced by someone she hates and in turn being hated by his wife (played by Sarah Paulson). Other actors appearing include Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Scoot McNairy, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Stormy Reid, and Quvenzhané Wallis among others.

12 years a slave lupita nyongo michael fassbender

Caught between a master who gets off on pain and his wife who will also destroy if she feels cheated upon

Like most films focusing on slavery, the film can be difficult to watch. The beautiful setting of the South, the fields, and Spanish moss covered live oaks take a sinister look in what they represent to the people hurt in slavery. It is a tale of two worlds…and different viewers will see them differently depending on their background. This is added to brutality of slavery and physical wounds endured by the slaves which are horrendous.

Films featuring slavery are often a tough sell. They do tell a part of history that cannot be and should not be forgotten, but they have the potential for exploitation. They also force actors into roles of subjugation and torture…which can have unforeseen psychological consequences on both the part of the slavers and the slaves. I wouldn’t say 12 Years a Slave is an “easier” slavery movie, but it is a more layered one. 12 Years a Slave is a different portrayal of the crimes of America (and humanity’s) past and a good reminder of the freedoms that were fought for.

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Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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