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12 Years a Slave (2013)

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In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

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(screenplay), (based on "Twelve Years a Slave" by)
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Top Rated Movies #201 | Won 3 Oscars. Another 235 wins & 326 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
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Dickie Gravois ...
Overseer
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Anna
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Cameron Zeigler ...
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Mister Mackey Jr. ...
Randall
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Storyline

Based on an incredible true story of one man's fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty personified by a malevolent slave owner, as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon's chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist will forever alter his life. Written by Fox Searchlight

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

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The extraordinary true story of Solomon Northup


Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality | See all certifications »

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Details

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Release Date:

8 November 2013 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Twelve Years a Slave  »

Filming Locations:

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Box Office

Budget:

$20,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$923,715 (USA) (18 October 2013)

Gross:

$56,667,870 (USA) (2 May 2014)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

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Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Director 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. See more »

Goofs

When Solomon is being sold to Master Ford, the two nude women in the background both have shaved pubic hair, something virtually impossible in the 1840s. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Overseer: Alright now, y'all fresh niggers. Y'all gonna be in the cuttin' gang.
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Connections

Featured in 19th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards (2014) See more »

Soundtracks

The Devil's Dream
Arranged by Nicholas Britell and Tim Fain
Performed by Tim Fain
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User Reviews

 
A disturbing but powerful portrayal of slavery in America
3 November 2013 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Directed by Steve McQueen and staring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict CUmberbatch, newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, and a ton of other stars, '12 Years a Slave' is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a freeman who was living in Saratoga, NY before being tricked, drugged, and sold into slavery in the south.

McQueen is an auteur known for his honest and brutal direction, and he keeps filming when others would shut the camera off or look away. While making the picture that much more difficult to sit through, his steadfastness greatly elevates the emotional impact of the film. It's a must-see, if only for educational purposes—just as 'Schindler's List' is used to teach about the Holocaust and 'Milk' about the struggle for gay rights.

I'm not trying to compare the events depicted in this film with the events depicted in those I just mentioned, all I'm saying is that they are all equally important in portraying the reality of their respective situations. There is a moment in '12 Years a Slave' when, as a form of punishment, Northup is hanged by his neck, the tips of his toes just able to reach the ground below him. The camera stays on him for a few minutes. It is silent, and all you can do is listen to him struggling for breath.

This is one of the more disturbing moments in the film, but not the worst. Eventually, Northup is sold to Edwin Epps, a short-tempered and impulsive plantation owner portrayed by Michael Fassbender. He is by far the most villainous and terrifying character in the film, and Fassbender brilliantly captures his mood swings and tempestuous personality.

It is Chiwetel Ejiofor, however, who steals the show. He brings so much life to Northup, and completely disappears into his characters. He is able to depict so many deep levels of emotion, while also bringing dignity to a man who was unwilling to let anyone take away his will to "live" rather than just "survive." Additionally, Lupita Nyong'o, in her first big film role, is mesmerizing as Patsey, and hardworking and desperate woman, and the object of her master Epps's attention. She is hated by Epps's wife—masterfully played by Sarah Paulson— and most of the more dramatic moments in the film revolve around her character's tragic story.

If I have one complaint, it's that 12 years do not seem to pass by at all, mainly because none of the characters substantially age. Also, Brad Pitt is thrown in for ten minutes to depict a kind-hearted abolitionist, and while he does a good job, it just feels like Brad Pitt on a slave plantation, which is totally out of place.

Regardless, while the film may be harrowing and difficult to sit through, it is simply brilliant all the way through, and by far the most honest depiction of slavery that I've ever seen.


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