12 Years of Slavery (original title: 12 Years a Slave ) is a British – American drama film from 2013, directed by Steve McQueen and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup , completing the cast Michael Fassbender , Benedict Cumberbatch , Paul Dano , Paul Giamatti , Lupita Nyong’o , Sarah Paulson , Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard in the supporting roles. The script, written by John Ridley, is an adaptation from the autobiography of Solomon Northup ( Twelve Years to Slave ), an African-American mulatto born free in the state of New York , who was kidnapped in the District of Columbia in 1841, sold as a slave and released in 1853 after working in Louisiana plantations during 12 years.
12 years of slavery , the third feature film by director McQueen, won three Oscars in the 86th edition of the contest (2013) for best film , best supporting actress (Lupita Nyong’o) and best adapted screenplay ; in addition to the Golden Globe for the best dramatic film and the BAFTA Award , among others.
Filming of the film took place in New Orleans between June 27 and August 13, 2012, with a budget of 20 million dollars, within four historical plantations: Felicity, Magnolia, Bocage and Destrehan . Of the four, Magnolia is the closest to the true plantation where Northup worked.
The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2013 and has received generally positive reviews from specialists. Its debut in the US theaters was on October 18, 2013, while in the United Kingdom it was on January 10, 2014.
In 1841, Solomon Northup ( Chiwetel Ejiofor ) is a free black man who lives with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York . He earns his living as a skilled carpenter and violinist . One day he is dragged by a couple of men ( Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam ) to a lucrative tour concert with a circus. After a night of drinking with the two men, Northup wakes up to find himself chained to the ground, realizing that he has been drugged and will be sold as a slave.
Northup is sent to New Orleans , where his name is replaced by that of “Platt”, a fugitive slave from Georgia . He is beaten to force him to hide his identity as a free man, and keep Platt’s name, and is ultimately bought by the plantation owner William Ford ( Benedict Cumberbatch). Supporting his new life, Northup maintains good relations with Ford, who turns out to be a relatively benevolent master or in his faint-hearted failure: he is capable of feeling but is unable to act accordingly. As a slave, Northup suggests an improvement to the transport system by designing a waterway using the swamps of the area for hauling logs, quickly and cost-effectively. Ford gives him a violin in gratitude. Racist carpenter John Tibeats ( Paul Dano ) immediately resents Northup, and verbally begins to harass him.
Over time the tensions between Tibeats and Northup reach a boiling point, and Tibeats tries to hit him and he defends himself. In retaliation, Tibeats and his friends try to lynch Northup, hanging him from a tree with the intention of hanging him. Despite the intervention of the supervisor of Epps, freeing him from death, Northup remains hung, slightly supported resting on the balls of his feet while around him the other slaves follow his life as if nothing happened, in a scene charged with drama. Does Ford sell to Northup to protect it from Tibeats? No, it’s to get rid of a problem and his new master will be Edwin Epps ( Michael Fassbender), a cruel planter, who believes that the right to abuse slaves is authorized by the Bible. Before being sent to Epps, Northup tries to reason with Ford, claiming that he is actually a free man. Ford states that he can not hear that, and responds that he has a debt to pay, the purchase price of Northup. Ford also tells him that he thinks Northup is a good person, but that would not do him any good.
The main task of all the slaves in the Epps plantation is to collect cotton and for that, everyone is expected to collect at least 200 pounds each day, or they will be beaten. A young slave named Patsey ( Lupita Nyong’o ), however, collects more than 500 pounds a day, and Epps praises her continuously and even rapes her repeatedly. Epps’ wife ( Sarah Paulson ) feels extremely jealous of the attention that Epps lavishes on Patsey, and continually punishes and humiliates her. In the film it is not clear why Patsey gets more performance than everyone else or why Northup works with reluctance.
Patsey is benefited by being the only slave who had a day off a week going to the house of Mrs. Shaw, a free black woman who owns her house and servants who enjoys the long time that has passed since she was whipped or worked in the cotton fields; besides that Mrs. Shaw was telling Solomon about his infidelity to the mistress Epps.
Epps decides that a recent outbreak of cotton worm in the fields is a plague sent by God, brought to his plantation by his new slaves. He lends them to a neighboring plantation during the harvest season, while his crops recover, but warns them not to bring more pests to his friend’s property. Once there, Northup wins the favor of the owner of the plantation, who asks him to play the violin at the anniversary celebration of his friends, and he pays him a coin for his performance.
When Northup returns to the Epps plantation, he tries to use this currency to pay the former supervisor ( Garret Dillahunt ) to send a letter to his friends in New York . The former supervisor agrees to deliver the letter and accepts the money, but betrays Northup, deferring it to Epps. Northup is barely able to convince Epps that history is a lie. Northup then burns, through tears, the letter, which represented his only hope of freedom.
Patsey’s abuse gets progressively worse as Epps continues to force her. Patsey wants to commit suicide, asking Northup for help, but Northup rejects her. One day, Epps is enraged to discover that Patsey disappeared from his plantation. When she returns, she reveals that she had only gone to get a bar of soap, since Mary Epps refused to use soap (to humiliate her with its stinky smell). Epps orders that she be stripped and tied to a pole. Prompted by his wife, Epps forces Northup to beat Patsey. Northup reluctantly obeys, trying to cause as little damage as possible, but Epps finally takes Northup’s whip, whipping it brutally and savagely.
While he cures Patsey, Northup works in the construction of a pavilion with a Canadian worker named Bass ( Brad Pitt ). Bass has earned the animosity of Epps by expressing his opposition to slavery, and this leads Northup to trust him and tell him the circumstances of his life and the kidnapping. Once again, Northup asks for help to send a letter to Saratoga Springs. Bass, risking his life, accepts his proposal.
While working in the fields for planting, Northup is called by the local sheriff, who arrives in a car with another man. The sheriff asks him about his life before Northup, to contrast it with the facts of his life in New York. Northup recognizes the sheriff’s associate, Mr. Parker ( Rob Steinberg ), as a merchant he knew from Saratoga, and realizes that the man has come to free him. Although Epps resists and Patsey is distressed, Northup leaves immediately. After being enslaved for 12 years, Northup returns to freedom and is returned to his family. Final notes relate the inability of Northup and his legal counsel to prosecute the men responsible for selling him as a slave, as well as the mystery surrounding the details of his death and burial.
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