Based on the true story and an adaptation of the 1853 memoir of the same name by an African-American named Solomon Northup, a free man from New York state who was abducted and sold into slavery, 12 Years a Slave is a 2013 multiple award winning British-American film directed & co-produced by Steve McQueen. The movie stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup with Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard in supporting roles.
Solomon is a carpenter & musician, who is known for his violin playing, living with his wife & two kids in Saratoga Springs, NY. While his wife & kids are away visiting family, he is offered a 2 week job playing violin in Washington DC by two white men, who drug him and have him chained to be sold to slavery. Despite his protests about being a free man from NY, is shipped to New Orleans, renamed as Platt and beaten by the slavery merchants. He is sold to plantation owner William Ford and is on good terms with him, a benevolent white master. However, after engineers a waterway for transporting logs swiftly and cost-effectively downstream, Solomon earns the wrath of carpenter John Tibetts who also works in the same plantation. Tibetts begins to verbally abuse Solomon and when tension increases, he attacks him but is beaten back. In retaliation Tibbets and two other men attempt to lynch Northup, who suffers many hours in the noose but he is saved by Ford who tells him that in order to save his life he must sell him to Edwin Epps. Although a weary Solomon tries to tell Ford that he is a “free man”, Ford explains that he also has a debt to pay to Epps.
Epps is a harsh man, believing that slavery is biblically sanctioned and treats his slaves badly. He whips any slave who doesn’t reach his/her quota for picking cotton and in the middle of the night wakes them up to dance for his & his wife’s amusement. Epps favours a young slave named Patsey, who works better than anyone else and rapes her several times, much to the chagrin of his wife Mary. For this Mary humiliates and abuses Patsey in front of the others on several occasion. Due to an outbreak of cotton worms Epps, who believes that the slaves have earned the wrath of god, leases them to a neighboring plantation for the season. While there, Solomon gains the favor of the plantation’s owner, who gives him a coin after he plays the fiddle at a wedding anniversary celebration. Once back at Epps farm, Solomon uses the coin to get a white farm worker to mail a letter to Northup’s friends in New York. The man agrees to deliver the letter and takes the money, but betrays Solomon to Epps who comes to question Solomon, who narrowly manages to convince his master that it is a lie. He then burns the letter in tears. Patsey is missing from the farm one day, which enrages Epps and when she returns she says that she had gone to get a bar of soap from Mistress Shaw (Alfre Woodward) as Mary refuses to give her any. Epps has her stripped and tied to a post and encouraged by Mary makes Solomon whip her. When Solomon is hesitant Epps vows to kill all the slaves if he refuses so Solomon uses the whip on Patsey.
Epps eventually takes the whip away from him, savagely lashing the woman until her back is filled with scars that have ripped her skin & flesh. This is a hard scene to watch without being affected. She is then taken by her fellow slaves to be treated. Later while talking to a Canadian labourer named Bass, who had previously expressed his opposition to slavery to Epps, Solomon talks about his life as a free man. Solomon asks for help in getting a letter to Saratoga Springs from Bass, who is leaving in a day and who agrees to do that with risk to his own life. A while later the local sheriff comes to Epps’ farm with a shopkeeper who knows from Saratoga. The shopkeeper is there to vouch for Solomon’s status and the sheriff allows him to take Solomon back with him despite Epps’s protest. As Solomon leaves he hugs Patsey goodbye. A few days later Solomon is reunited with his family after a long separation of 12 years. His daughter is now married and has a baby son herself and the family tearfully hug. The closing credits recount the inability of Solomon Northup and his legal counsel to prosecute the men responsible for his being sold into slavery, as well as the mystery surrounding details of his death and burial.
Touching film that will surely move you and it is certainly worth the 2 hours time you spend on viewing it. Earning over $140 million on a production budget of $20 million the film won three Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for Nyong’o and Best Adapted Screenplay for Ridley. It was awarded the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and theBritish Academy of Film and Television Arts recognized the film with the Best Film and the Best Actor award for Ejiofor. 9 outta 10 for me!