12 Years a Slave is a powerful film based on the memoir by Solomon Northup published in 1853. The film has won 134 awards since its release, including Academy Awards for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Lupita Nyong’o), and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). The film was the first Best Picture with a black director, although Steve McQueen did not win Best Director. 12 Years a Slave is raw and direct and, once you start watching, it’s hard to take your eyes away.
The story takes place in 1851 and centres on Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film starts with Solomon in a group of slaves, but flashes back to his free life: he had a wife and children, he was a sought-after violinist, he was happy. But he trusts the wrong people and is sold to Master Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Ford is kind to Solomon but his favour does not mean anything to slave handler Tibeats, who picks on Solomon and eventually tries to beat him. But Solomon beats Tibeats instead, who in turn attempts to lynch Solomon. Solomon is eventually saved by another slave handler, Chapin, and Ford—who realizes he will not be able to protect Solomon forever and sells him to another master, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).
Epps is ruthless and beats slaves who do not meet their cotton picking quotas. While working on a gazebo for Epps, Solomon meets a paid Canadian worker named Bass (Brad Pitt) who is sympathetic to the slaves. Solomon tells Bass of his life as a free man and asks Bass to send a letter to those who could help free him again. Bass knows he would be sacrificing his life and freedom by sending such a letter…but on this action hangs the hope of Solomon’s rescue.
The film is a moving depiction of the lives of slaves and the precariousness of freedom. Solomon’s sufferings, especially those at the hands of his supposed friends, are a powerful reminder of the cruelty of humanity—but his perseverance and the help he receives from good people remind us that we can overcome evil and prevent it from happening again. 12 Years a Slave is brutally honest and at times graphic—but overall it is a great movie, and one that you will want to watch again and again. Go see it!