The Film '12 Years a Slave'

In 1853 Solomon Northup, an African-American born a free man, wrote his biography about how at the age of 33 he got kidnapped and separated from his wife and 3 children by two men he met who offered him lucrative work with a circus. Believing both men’s words Northup followed them to Washington D.C. where after various stops to multiple saloons throughout the night Northup remembers getting ill with a severe headache and nausea. Shortly after leaving his room and heading into the streets, his memory escapes him and the next thing he remembers is waking up handcuffed and chained to the floor of the Williams Slave Pen in Washington, D.C. After waking up disorientated, chained to the ground, James H. Burch, a brutal slave trader in Washington, D.C. enters the room where Solomon was being kept and proceeded to exclaim that Northup was his slave, that he had bought him, and that he was about to send him to New-Orleans (Northup 44). When Northup protests his enslavement and asserts his right to freedom, Burch responds by beating him and threatening to kill him if he ever mentions his freedom again. Burch denied that Northup was free, and with an emphatic oath, declared that he came from Georgia (Northup 44). Northup spends the next 12 years as a slave first to William Ford then being sold John M. Tibeats, a cruel and malicious carpenter that soon tries to kill Northup. Unable to kill him, yet bearing murderous hatred toward him, Tibeats sells Northup to the even crueler Edwin Epps. Northup spends 10 years as a slave to Epps until he was able to send a letter to his friends in New York and be released as a free man once more to be reunited with his wife and grown-up children.

The Film 12 Years a Slave, based on Northup’s memoir, directed by Steve McQueen was released in 2013.It is a period drama about Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African-American man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. and sold into slavery. Northup was forced to work in plantations for the next 12 years until finally being released and being able to see his wife and 2 children.

The film 12 Years a Slave is a great movie that depicts the brutality that a lot of African-American faced in that time. However, even though the film does closely resemble the memoir by the same name there is a muddying of facts that are often found in book-to-film adaptations. For example, unlike the movie, Northup and his wife had three children together, not two. Their daughter Margaret and son Alonzo are illustrated in the movie, while their other child, Elizabeth was erased. The film also takes some creative licenses, like the intimate scene between Northup and Patsey, another slave owned by Edwin Epps, which the writer decided to incorporate to ease the suffering that the characters faced before and after the scene. The film also erases the fact that to settle a debt William Ford sold Northup to John M. Tibeats. Furthermore McQueen also deliberately decided to erase valuable people from the memoir, like the slave trader Goodin and Northup’s experience in his possession. However, McQueen did, in fact, stay mostly true to Northup’s memoir in the film, like Northup’s real-life experience, the bulk of the film version is seen on Epps’ plantation.

As a result of this 12 Years a Slave is actually a well written film that shows some of the more gruesome moments of slavery in history. It forces one to really dwell on just how cruel humans have been and continue to be to one another, and shows Solomon Northup’s journey as he goes from being born a free man to being kidnaped and sold to finally being able to be free and be reunited with his family.

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The Film '12 Years a Slave'. (2021, Mar 16). Retrieved April 12, 2024 , from

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