RATING: ★★★½ (3.5/4)

12 Years a Slave chronicles the remarkable true story of Solomon Northup, a free African-American from New York who in 1841 was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Following over a decade of menacing abuse in the Antebellum South, Northup was finally granted his freedom and returns to his family. He spent the remainder of his life as a staunch abolitionist, assisting with various anti-slavery causes such as the Underground Railroad. The film is based on Northup’s memoirs, similarly titled 12 Years a Slave, which was published in 1853.

Image Credit: IMBD
Image Credit: IMBD

Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, Inside Man) brilliantly portrays the stoic, humble persona of Northup, and will likely challenge Matthew McConaughey’s act in Dallas Buyers Club for the Academy Award for Best Actor. Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, The Counselor) delivers a phenomenal performance as a plantation owner whose menacing brutality is nothing short of chilling. Together, the two actors serve as the backbone of the film, strongly representing the dichotomy of good and evil.

Rather than solely denigrate the institution of slavery, an unfortunate, unjustifiable reality of American history, British director Steve McQueen takes the film in an alternate direction. He primarily seeks to illustrate the horrifyingly intense struggle of Northup, who refuses to succumb to feelings of defeat and despair. Moreover, McQueen effectively conveys raw, unfiltered emotion to the audience, allowing for a vivid film largely devoid of political overtones. While the movie certainly highlights the abusive nature of slavery in an unrelenting, graphic manner, the film evolves into a powerful tale of will and survival that transcends its genre.

In addition to McQueen’s masterful guidance, Hans Zimmer’s score provides the movie with a wonderful stylistic element, which is refreshing given the film’s obviously solemn subject matter. Zimmer’s musical compositions not only effectively build harrowing suspense, but also complement the characters’ vast range of emotions. His extraordinary talent, evident in his musical scores from blockbusters such as The Dark Knight and Inception, is in full gear throughout the film.

It is evident from the beginning of his enslavement that Northup possesses a fervent desire to persevere rather than become a helpless victim. In fact, at various instances throughout the film, Northup chastises his fellow slaves for their grief and self-pity. Whether it is the mother who is separated from her child or the young girl who is the sexual desire of a plantation owner, Northup passionately urges them to not become entrapped in a perpetual state of mourning. In this sense, 12 Years a Slave is much more than just a movie about slavery, but rather an iconic film about the inherently American dogma of self-determination.

My one critique is that the film seems to rush through the events surrounding Northup’s release, a truly remarkable feat given few kidnapped Africans-Americans were ever able to regain their status as free men. Brad Pitt (Moneyball, Ocean’s Eleven) briefly portrays the Canadian carpenter who assists Northup in acquiring his freedom. Unfortunately, his performance comes across as forced and unnatural, which exacerbates the confusion around the logistics regarding Northup’s release.

Overall, 12 Years a Slave is a fantastic film which does justice to the legacy of Solomon Northup. The movie’s various components synchronize in a harmonious rhythm, allowing the audience to easily become enthralled by Northup’s unbelievable story. I cannot reiterate enough the universal appeal of the film, an attribute which will allow 12 Years a Slave to certainly be a contender at the upcoming Academy Awards. Although probably not the best choice for a date or family movie night, 12 Years a Slave will undeniably invoke your rawest, most innate emotions in a captivating manner.

Check out the trailer here!


  1. In analyzing the film, “12 Years a Slave,” one can
    witness the horror of slavery from the perspective of those who experienced it.
    “12 Years a Slave” unfolds a plot about individual survival during the time of
    the American Slavery. In this plot, the terror of slavery is revealed through
    the eyes of Solomon Northup, an educated, cultured free black, who is forced
    into slavery after being tricked by his “friends” in DC. This film reveals a
    number of events that happened during the time of the American slavery. For
    instance, it exposes how religion was used to deceive the slaves, it shows the
    horrible act of lynching the Blacks in the South, and it reveals the abuse,
    rape, and suffering that the slaves had to go through.

    This film depicts the abuses of religion by slave owners
    towards the slaves. For instance, Solomon Northup finds himself at the mercy of
    two very different slave masters, neither of whom sees any contradiction in
    using the Bible to justify the individual institution to which he belongs.
    There are various biblical references used throughout the film. For example,
    Edwin Epps (one of Solomon’s owner) read a section from the book of Luke to his
    slaves, saying that the disobedient slaves “shall be beaten with many stripes.”
    He even sends his slaves away for a season blaming them for bad harvest and
    allowing them to return when his crops once again find God’s favor.

    Moreover, after seeing this film we can see that a
    person’s socioeconomic status is no exception from the realities of racism. In
    the movie, Northup was an educated, free black men but being born free does not
    mean that he is safe from the demonstration of white supremacy in America
    during that time. Although he is educated, musically talented, and in the
    bourgeoisie, it did not matter simply because is a person of color. This will always be the case and reality for
    a person of color living under the white control and that is why we must use
    our passion and anger and turn it into something proactive and stand up for our
    rights. Some black Americans with a higher socioeconomic level, living in white
    communities may think that they will be treated equally, but that is not the
    case. There is always some sort of racism/inequality involved in schools,
    health care, and economic opportunities. This was the situation in the 1840s
    and appears somewhat to be this way today.

    There is also a very powerful scene in 12 Years a Slave
    that shows Solomon Northup hanging on a tree by his neck when Tibeats (a slave
    handler) attempted to lynch him for vengeance. Although it is disturbing to
    watch a human-being being lynched on a tree, what is even more disturbing is
    the fact the lynching appeared to be a common thing that no one really cared
    about. In the scene, children were playing in the background and adults engaged
    in their business as usual. This act of lynching seemed to be a norm, but if we
    take a step back and analyze the situation, it is a very inhumane act treating
    a human being this way.

    For once we see a film that is not revolved around the
    white character and not marginalizing black characters. It is a film that tells
    a true story about the blacks and what they have gone through. The black
    characters are the main characters and the plot is centered around them while
    the white characters are the supporting roles. It is nice to see a change in
    the Hollywood films for once—not a film about white people saving the helpless
    or pitiful slaves, but rather a story about the true lived experience of human
    beings suffering under the dehumanizing system of slavery.

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