Even though American slavery ended in the 1860s, it has captured the attention of movie makers in recent years. Last year, two of the more popular films at the Academy Awards were “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained.” This year, many people are predicting “12 Years a Slave” will be popular at the Academy Awards next year, and it certainly should be.
This film tells the true story of Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. It familiarized audiences with the presence of free black families in the antebellum North. Northup was born and raised a free man. He had a family and was a violin player. While his family was out of town, Northup was tricked by people who said they wanted him to work for them. They drugged him and sold him to a slave trader. Soon after this, he is the slave of Ford (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), who treats his slaves with comparative respect. But after Northup gets into a fight with someone working for Ford, he has no choice but to sell him to Edwin Epps (played by Michael Fassbender), who views slaves as abject property and whips them when they don't meet his unreasonable demands for productivity.
As Solomon Northup, Chiwetel Ejiofor is amazing. Shortly after his abduction, he is warned not to reveal that he is an educated man. Northup is stuck acting dumb, when he is really very smart. Ejiofor makes his character feel very authentic. There are a lot of memorable supporting performances in the film. Among the best are Michael Fassbender as Epps and Sarah Paulson as his equally cold-hearted wife. Aware that he is having a sexual relationship with one of the slaves, her hatred for her husband and this situation is intense.
The movie is very well directed by Steve McQueen (no relation to the film star). He shows the toxicity of slavery, and makes a few scenes very tough to watch. These scenes include whippings and slaves being sold away from their families.
“12 Years a Slave” ranks among the year’s best films.