It’s the year 1841 during the later era of slavery. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man with papers, living in Saratoga, New York. We see him as a relatively prosperous musician, well-educated and respected. Northup is married with three young children. He is introduced to two supposedly talent scouts, who assure him that he could get great work as a fiddler in a traveling circus. His family is out of town so he does not consult with them. Instead he heads to Washington, D.C. with them for a night of wining and dining. The wining is done on purpose to get him drunk as Northup wakes up in a holding cell, shackled with chains. Abducted and taken to Georgia to be sold into slavery.
He is now cutting sugar cane and told to be silent about where he is from. What follows is an extremely intense and graphic epic of the suffrage of slaves by not necessarily the plantation owner Master but more so by those employed by the owners to make sure that their jobs are done. Further punishment is the end result of either not doing enough work or talking back to the “sub-master”, let alone the owner or his wife.
We see Northup go from one plantation, cutting the sugar cane, where it appears that this owner is much more humane (although these “sub-masters” are much more into their power position and needing to always prove so) to being sold to a much angrier owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Here he is working in the cotton fields. Most of the movie’s plot and suffering focuses on this “home”.
Epps is married to a woman who is jealous of one pretty field worker Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who is forced to have sex with him. A whole other story that revolves around Patsey ensues.
There is much weeping…such as one female who has been separated from her children, graphic gore of whippings, and much use of “the N word”, although each time someone says, “this is my property” can be just as harsh.
During the 12 years, Northup keeps trying to find a way to communicate to his family, even trying to write using “ink” made from blackberries.
If Ejiofor looks a bit familiar, you have seen him portray Lola, the drag queen in the movie version of Kinky Boots.
The movie, based on Northup’s autobiography, is directed by Steve McQueen. It Is quite compelling and certainly due for top awards not just for the movie itself but the leading actors, Ejiofor and Nyong’o, as well as Fassbender. It’s a must to see.