I will survive! I will not fall into despair. I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!
Chances are if you’ve been on the Internet in the last 24 hours, you’ve seen the trailer for 12 Years a Slave. Based on the incredible true story of Solomon Northup, the film follows one man’s journey to return to home to his family and way of life after he is kidnapped, sold into slavery and tormented for more than a decade. Led by the underrated (and soon-to-be megastar) Chiwetel Ejiofor, the film boasts an all-star supporting cast featuring Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Paul Giamatti.
Opening in theaters this October, 12 Years a Slave should garner numerous accolades by year’s end. It is also important to note that capable British director Steve McQueen will be the first black filmmaker to cover the difficult and emotional subject of slavery in a film enjoying a multi-screen, wide release.
This moving first trailer, packed with powerful images of hardship and suffering, provides movie-lovers with a number of reasons to anticipate this film. Here are the top 5 in our opinion.
Based on a True Story
12 Years a Slave (1853) is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, who bravely shared his story shortly after the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Unflinching and raw, Northup’s recollections of the cruelties that he and his fellow slaves endured only heightened the outrage caused by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s seminal novel. This isn’t the first time that Solomon Northup’s story has been put on film. In 1984, Gordon Parks (Shaft) directed Solomon Northup's Odyssey on PBS’ American Playhouse starring Avery Brooks and John Saxon. The book is now in the public domain and can be downloaded here.
It’s Not a Hollywood Blockbuster
Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave both deal with the peculiar institution of slavery, but that is about all that they have in common. Shot on film with a budget of $20 million, Steve McQueen’s film is small potatoes compared to Quentin Tarantino’s bloated, fictional and free-wheeling $100-million dollar epic. Taking advantage of Lousiana’s film incentive and tax credit program, 12 Years a Slave was shot entirely in that state without the pressures of Hollywood producers and studios lurking in the background. Further, 12 Years a Slave will be released by Fox Searchlight and will present a bleak and painfully realistic exploration of slavery, injustice and one man’s courageous fight for his rightful freedom in pre-Civil War America.
Chiwetel Ejiofor Gets His Due
We’ve have appreciated the considerable talents of Chiwetel Ejiofor for a long time now. Celebrated for strong supporting roles in films like Dirty Pretty Things, Serenity, Inside Man and American Gangster, Ejiofor is always an exciting screen presence. Films in which he has had lead roles—Kinky Boots, Talk to Me, and Redbelt—have also garnered him acclaim, but their poor performance at the box office kept him from getting his full due. With his performance in 12 Years a Slave, we are certain that Ejiofor will be among this year’s Oscar nominees for his handling of the complex role of Solomon Northup, a man struggling. to keep his dignity and sanity intact in a degrading and dehumanizing situation.
The Pairing of Steve McQueen and John Ridley
An import from England, Steve McQueen is one of the most unique voices working in the industry right now. In Hunger, he tackled the true story of Bobby Stands, an IRA martyr who led in the 1981 Irish Hunger strike. In Shame, McQueen explored the rapidly disintegrating life of a fictionalized sex addict who struggles to find meaning and empathy in his life. Never satisfied with the safe and ordinary, the adaptable McQueen loves a challenge and will bring his distinctive style to 12 Years a Slave as the glimpses of the film provided by the trailer clearly show.
John Ridley, the accomplished African American novelist/screenwriter (U-Turn, Three Kings, Undercover Brother), penned the script for 12 Years a Slave. Last year, he wrote Red Tails, the George Lucas produced film about the Tuskegee Airmen, for the big screen, proving that he is comfortable dealing with important historical topics.
A Cavalcade of Supporting Stars
12 Years a Slave boasts one of the most accomplished casts in recent memory. In addition to Ejiofor, impressive British talents like Michael Fassbender (McQueen’s constant collaborator) and the so-hot-right-now Benedict Cumberbatch are among the stars with top billing, along with Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o. The supporting players are form a who’s who of Hollywood’s best and brightest: Brad Pitt (who also produced the film), Paul Giamatti, Michael Kenneth Williams, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, Adepero Oduye, Scoot McNairy, and Garrett Dillahunt. Added bonus: both Beast of the Southern Wild’s Dwight Henry and Oscar-nominee Quvenzhané Wallis have roles in the film as well.