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Jose Adams
Jose Adams

12 Years Of Slave

After "Django Unchained" and Lee Daniels' "The Butler," both informed by the shameful legacy of slavery and institutionalized injustice in America, you might think you have satisfied your quota of viewing incidents of racial hatred, sexual abuse and ugly brutality in the past year.

12 years of slave

For once, history is presented as personal and immediate, not a saga relying on scholarly works and court records à la "Amistad." The source is a rare first-hand account based on the best-selling 19th-century memoir written by Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who suddenly had his liberty torn away after being kidnapped and sold for slave labor in Louisiana.

Like Lee Daniels in "The Butler," McQueen capitalizes on his growing rep to stack the casting deck with recognizable faces, many plucked from the indie universe. Paul Giamatti lends a grubby gruffness to his all-business slave trader. Benedict Cumberbatch is Northup's first master, the (comparatively) kindly William Ford, who treats Solomon and his skills as a violinist and craftsman with respect while wrestling with the contradictions that their relationship presents.

Paul Dano performs his nasty plantation overseer John Tibeats, who considers Northup's every move a personal affront, with all the hysteria he afforded his preacher in "There Will Be Blood," plus a sadistic streak. "Mad Men" costar Bryan Batt invests his Judge Turner with effeminate affectations, while Alfre Woodard's fancy lady slyly sips her tea at her leisure as an ex-slave who uses marriage as a passage to freedom. There is even room for "Beasts of the Southern Wild"'s Dwight Henry (as a slave) and Quvenzhané Wallis (as Northup's daughter).

But by the time that Brad Pitt, one of the film's producers, arrives late in the tale with a highly disruptive cameo as a Canadian carpenter who provides hope to Northup that the end to his decade-plus nightmare is nigh, most viewers will be too overwhelmed and stunned to much care. And as they wipe their tears and gather the strength to leave their seats, their minds will be filled with one thought: That they have actually witnessed American slavery in all its appalling horror for the very first time.

Susan Wloszczyna spent much of her nearly thirty years at USA TODAY as a senior entertainment reporter. Now unchained from the grind of daily journalism, she is ready to view the world of movies with fresh eyes.

"Although often dismissed as mere antislavery propaganda, the widespread consumption of slave narratives in the nineteenth-century U.S. and Great Britain and their continuing prominence today testify to the power of these texts to provoke reflection and debate."

Parents need to know that 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing, moving drama based on a book written in the 1850s by Solomon Northup recounting his experiences as a slave, and it can be difficult to watch. There are scenes that show extreme brutality (beatings, hangings) and rough language (the use of the "N" word), and extreme emotional cruelty. Expect some slave market nudity, plus the sexual assault of a slave by a master. Very young teens and tweens may find it too intense, but older teens should watch it to bear witness to a tragic part of American history.

An accomplished violinist and free man living in the state of New York, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) agrees in 1841 to tour with two gentlemen and perform while his family is away visiting relatives. Sadly, they were no gentlemen and there was no tour. Instead, they kidnap him, sneak him to the South and sell him as a slave. No matter how many times Northup says he's a free man, no one believes him, least of which the slave trader (Paul Giamatti) who insists on naming him "Platt." His first master, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), means well, but is scared off by neighbors who won't let him be kind to his workers. Northup's second master, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), is a forbidding, troubled taskmaster who preys on a female slave, Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), who then becomes the subject of cruelty at the hands of Epps' embittered wife, Mary (Sarah Paulson). Will Northup ever be free? Will the man from Canada named Bass (Brad Pitt) help or betray him? And how will he survive, both spirit and mind intact?

Do you think the amount of violence in this movie helps viewers get a realistic understanding of the experience of slavery? Or is it gratuitous? Does the fact that the violence is in a historical context make it more (or less) tolerable?

Fugitive slave laws allowed African Americans who could not prove their free status to be taken into slavery. What does the political cartoon suggest about negative effects these laws had both on escaped slaves and African Americans like Solomon Northup who were born free?

It is awful because no one should be forced into anything they do not want to do. He was a free man and that should have been established in a better way. Protection within free slaves may have been hard to pursue but it is just so wrong to kidnap an innocent man. God bless that slavery has been put to an end.

This is not right that they can just get a black man and then place him as a slave. i wonder sometimes what would have happened if this was still going on or if this never happened what would the would be like or act.

Traveling home, Henry and Solomon Northup stopped in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 17, 1853, to have the slave trader James Birch arrested on kidnapping charges, but because Solomon had no right to testify against a white man, Birch went free. Solomon Northup was reunited with his family in Glens Falls, New York on Jan. 21, 1853.

For 12 years, violinist Solomon Northup toiled as a slave in Louisiana in secret, after being kidnapped from his home in Saratoga, New York, and sold for $650. Finally, on January 4, 1853, after an allied plantation worker sent several letters north on his behalf, Northup was freed, and returned home.

While suffering with severe pain some persons came in, and, seeing the condition he was in, proposed to give him some medicine and did so. That is the last thing of which he had any recollection until he found himself chained to the floor of Williams' slave pen in this city, and handcuffed. In the course of a few hours, James H. Burch, a slave dealer, came in, and the colored man asked him to take the irons off from him, and wanted to know why they were put on. Burch told him it was none of his business. The colored man said he was free and told where he was born. Burch called in a man by the name of Ebenezer Rodbury, and they two stripped the man and laid him across a bench, Rodbury holding him down by his wrists. Burch whipped him with a paddle until he broke that, and then with a cat-o'-nine-tails, giving him a hundred lashes, and he swore he would kill him if he ever stated to anyone that he was a free man.

By the laws of Louisiana no man can be punished there for having sold Solomon into slavery wrongfully, because more than two years had elapsed since he was sold; and no recovery can be had for his services, because he was bought without the knowledge that he was a free citizen.

Ultimately, Burch was acquitted, because he claimed he'd thought Northup was truly a slave for sale, and Northup couldn't testify otherwise. The identities of the two men who'd originally brought Northup to Washington on business and proceeded to drug and sell him remained a mystery.

\"It was perfumed with the scent of the past,\" added McQueen, who is also nominated for an Oscar. \"There was a plantation... where the slaves lived. It was in the air, it was in the soil, the blood, the Earth. So you're in the presence of a time and a place which had a lot of pain, but at the same time, had a lot of beauty.\"

Just five months since it was first shown to an audience, \"12 Years a Slave\" is already being called a defining film about slavery. Nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, the film tackles a subject overlooked throughout much of Hollywood's history.

There had been the racist \"Birth of a Nation\" in 1915, the lurid '70s potboiler, \"Mandingo,\" the serio-comic vengeance fantasy, \"Django Unchained,\" last year. But McQueen, 44, wanted to tell a slave story from a new perspective.

\"Eventually, after tossing and turning about it, thinking about it, for me, it was a free man, a free African-American, who was kidnapped into slavery,\" McQueen said. \"The story of an African brought to America had been done before in 'Roots,' very effectively, but for me what was interesting was that this person was actually an American and was kidnapped and dragged into slavery.\"

Much of the narrative and dialogue in \"12 Years a Slave\" come directly from the memoir of Solomon Northup, a northern musician cruelly dispatched to a series of southern slave owners, beginning in 1841. About 170 years later, the brutality of his story has been chronicled in \"12 Years a Slave.\"

\"I never had seen a film inside this experience, from inside the slave experience, and I felt the responsibility of it,\" Ejiofor said. \"I needed to have a kind of moment to work out just how to get there.\"

One poignant moment in the film surrounds the fate of a young slave woman named Patsey. McQueen considered hundreds of actresses before choosing newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, now also nominated for an Oscar. 041b061a72


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