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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

12 Years a Slave (2013) ft. Allyson Techmeier


Guest: Allyson Duncan


Cast:

  • Steve McQueen, Director

  • John Ridley, Writer

  • Hans Zimmer, Music

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup / Platt

  • Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps

  • Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey

  • Sarah Paulson as Mary Epps

  • Paul Dano as John Tibeats

  • Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford

  • Alfre Woodard as Mistress Harriet Shaw

  • Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass

  • Garret Dillahunt as Armsby

  • Scoot McNairy as Merrill Brown

  • Taran Killam as Abram Hamilton

  • Chris Chalk as Clemens Ray

  • Paul Giamatti as Theophilus Freeman

  • Michael Kenneth Williams as Robert

*Recognition:

  • 12 Years a Slave was wide released in the US on November 8, 2013.

  • The film would roughly gross $187.7 million against a budget of $20-22 million.

  • The film was widely praised by the majority of critics at the time, but, like any other race relations movie, had its detractors as well. However, 12 Years a Slave was named as one of the best films of 2013 by various ongoing critics, appearing on 100 different critics' top-ten lists with 25 having the film in their number-one spot for 2013; the most of any film released that year.

  • 12 Years a Slave would garner 10 Oscar nominations including Best Director (McQueen), Actor (Ejiofor), Supporting Actor (Fassbender), Costume and Production Design, and Film Editing. It would win for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actress (Nyong'o).

  • 12 Years a Slave currently holds a 95% on RT among critics, a 96 score on Metacritic, and a 4.1/5 on Letterboxd.

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: An unfamiliar part of the slavery era, freemen being kidnapped into the brutal reality and everlasting sorrow of slavery.


Plot Summary: "12 Years a Slave" is a harrowing and powerful film that transports the viewer back in time to the brutal reality of slavery in 19th century America. The film is based on the true story and memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South.

Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a stunning performance as Solomon, capturing both his intelligence and his resilience in the face of unimaginable cruelty. He is surrounded by an exceptional cast, including Michael Fassbender as the sadistic plantation owner and Lupita Nyong'o as a fellow slave who endures unspeakable horrors.

"12 Years a Slave" is a film that demands to be seen, not just for its historical importance, but for its profound exploration of the human spirit and the enduring power of hope. It is a testament to the resilience and bravery of those who fought against the brutal institution of slavery, and a reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and justice.


Did You Know:

  • Director Sir Steve McQueen had been toying with the idea of writing a script about slavery, featuring a black man who had been born free and was later forced into slavery, but McQueen was struggling with the script until his wife found Solomon Northup's biography and gave it to him. Shocked that he had never heard of Northup before, he decided to adapt the book instead.

  • In a October 2013 interview with NPR, Sir Steve McQueen mentioned that Solomon Northup's 1853 book reminded him of "The Diary of Anne Frank" from nearly a century later. McQueen noted that he lives in Amsterdam and that Anne Frank is a national hero in his home country; when Northup's book resonated the same way with him, he then resolved he would not rest until he had turned it into a movie.

  • At first, Chiwetel Ejiofor turned down Sir Steve McQueen's offer to play the leading role of Solomon Northup, but then realized he had to get over his initial fear of taking on what McQueen thought would be the role of the actor's lifetime. Ejiofor prepared for his role by immersing himself in the Louisiana plantation culture and learning how to play the violin.

  • Sir Steve McQueen's daughter told him to hire Sarah Paulson after viewing her audition tape, because she found her scary.

  • Sarah Paulson was originally unable to accept the role of Mary Epps, due to scheduling conflicts with the second season of American Horror Story (2011). When series creator Ryan Murphy found out about this he rearranged the show's production schedule so that Paulson could work on both projects.

  • The tree where Solomon sees several men being lynched was actually used for lynching, and is surrounded by the graves of murdered slaves.

  • Michael Kenneth Williams had an emotional breakdown while filming what eventually became a deleted scene in the movie, as he related on the The Arsenio Hall Show (2013). The stress of recreating such painful material caused him to collapse to the ground after a take, where he screamed and cried for an extended period as one of the stunt coordinators comforted him.

  • 12 Years a Slave (2013) is the first film from a black director to win the Academy Award for Best Picture; second film in a row, following Argo (2012), to win Best Picture and a screenplay Oscar without the Best Director Oscar; fifth film with a numbered-title to win Best Picture, following It Happened One Night (1934), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), The Godfather Part II (1974) and Around the World in 80 Days (1956); and the twelfth movie to win Best Picture with only three Oscars, a list that includes Casablanca (1942), Midnight Cowboy (1969), The Godfather (1972), Rocky (1976), Crash (2004) and Argo (2012).

Best Performance: Chiwetel Ejiofor (Northup)/Steve McQueen (Director)

Best Secondary Performance: Lupita Nyong'o (Patsey)

Most Charismatic Award: Michael Fassbender (Epps)/Adepero Oduye (Eliza)

Best Scene:

  • Solomon wakes up in jail

  • Engineering for Ford

  • Tussle with Tibeats

  • Patsey asks for Platt's mercy

  • Armsby

  • Whipping Patsey

  • Burying One of their Own

  • Parker rescues Solomon

  • Reunion

Favorite Scene: Reunion/Ford Rescues Solomon

Most Indelible Moment: Whipping Patsey/Reunion/Solomon Lynched


In Memorium:

  • Murray Melvin, 90, English actor (Alfie, Lisztomania, Barry Lyndon)

  • Garn Stephens, 87, American actress (Phyllis, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Sunshine Boys). She had nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series.

  • Ahmad Jamal, 92, American jazz pianist

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Solomon Northup: I don't want to survive. I want to live.


Clemens: If you want to survive, do and say as little as possible. Tell no one who you really are and tell no one that you can read and write. Unless you want to be a dead nigger.


Mistress Shaw: In his own time, the Good Lord will manage them all. The curse of the pharoahs was a poor example of what waits for the plantation class.


Edwin Epps: I bought 'em. I paid for 'em.

Bass: Well, of course you did, and the law says you have the right to hold a nigger. But begging the law's pardon, it lies. Suppose they pass a law taking away your liberty, making you a slave. Suppose.

Edwin Epps: That ain't a supposable case.

Bass: Laws change, Epps. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, a plain and simple fact, that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and black alike.

Edwin Epps: You comparing me to a nigger, Bass?

Bass: I'm only asking, in the eyes of God, what is the difference?


Bass: If this conversation concerns what is factual and what is not, then it must be said that there is no justice nor righteousness in their slavery.


Solomon Northup: [Epps has just whipped Patsey within an inch of her life] Thou devil! Sooner or later, somewhere in the course of eternal justice thou shalt answer for this sin!

Edwin Epps: No sin! There is no sin! A man does how he pleases with his property. At the moment, Platt, I am of great pleasure. You be goddamn careful I don't come to wantin' to lightenin' my mood no further.


Bass: Listen, Epps, these niggers are human beings. If they are allowed to climb no higher than brute animals, you and men like you will have to answer for it. There is an ill, Mr. Epps. A fearful ill resting upon this nation. And there will be a day of reckoning yet.


Solomon Northup: I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!


Mistress Ford: [to Eliza] Something to eat and some rest; your children will soon enough be forgotten.


Solomon Northup: I did as instructed. If there's something wrong, it's wrong with the instructions!


Mistress Epps: You will remove that black bitch from this property, or I'll take myself back to Cheneyville.

Edwin Epps: Back to the hogs's trough where I found you? Do not set yourself against Patsy, my dear. Cos I will rid myself of you well before I do away with her.


Bass: [sigh] I will write your letter, sir. And if it brings you your freedom, it will be more than a pleasure. It will have been my duty.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 6.17

Impact/Significance: 7.5

Novelty: 8.17

Classic-ness: 9.33

Rewatchability: 5.17

Audience Score: 9.1 (92% Google, 90% RT)

Total: 45.44


Remaining Questions:

  • Did Northup not tell anyone he was going with those specific men to Washington DC? And why didn't anyone look for him?

  • Why did Northup ever trust strange white people?

  • What was Northup's family's side of the story?

  • How did Northup cope after his reunion?

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