The award winning film Twelve Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen narrates the true story of Solomon Northup, a free Black violin player from Saratoga Springs, New York who was kidnapped and sold to slavery, his struggle for survival and his efforts to retain his dignity. Northup is kidnapped from Washington and since he was not carrying his Free Paper is declared to be a fugitive slave called Platt from Georgia. He is sold to plantation owner William Ford in New Orleans, a kind and generous man who impressed with his suggestion of cost cutting measures gives him a violin. But Ford’s carpenter Tibeats resents Northup and tries to lynch him. To save his life, Ford sells Northup to the cold and malevolent Edwin Epps.
Edwin Epps believes ‘niggers’ to be his property to be treated any which way he pleases. He rapes his best cotton picker Patsey repeatedly and whips any slave who picks less 200 pounds of cotton. Soon his cotton fields are plagued by the cotton worm and Epps has no option but to lease his slaves to Judge Turner for the season.
Benevolent Judge Turner allows Northup to play the violin at a neighbor’s party and allows him to keep the earnings. With that money Northup tries to buy his freedom but is betrayed. He then meets a Canadian carpenter Bass, at the plantation, who is horrified at the condition and status of the slaves in the plantation. Bass believes Northup’s history and agrees to help him regain his freedom. Soon the sheriff of the town comes to the plantation, frees Northup and takes him back home.
Northup was one of the few victims of kidnapping who managed to regain his freedom. He went on to become an active abolitionist and published his book Twelve Years a Slave, describing the trials and tribulations faced by him, in 1853.
The film very accurately depicts the plight of the slaves in the Southern plantations during the nineteenth century; the vicious and violent slave traders who transported them like cattle, the deplorable conditions they had to live in, the inhuman treatment meted out to them by their owners and the sympathy and help they found among fellow slaves. The film also lightly touches on the good heartedness of some owners who elevated their slaves and gave them respect by marrying them as was the case with Master and Mistress Shaw. As The Telegraph’s film critic Robbie Collin says “12 years a Slave isn’t simply a masterpiece, it’s a milestone history written with lightning”