12 Years a Slave


 

The Film

12 Years a Slave is a British produced and directed historical drama film. It is an adaptation of the 1853 memoir 'Twelve Years a Slave' by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free African American man, who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., in 1841 and sold into slavery. Northup worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release. The first scholarly edition of Northup's memoir, co-edited in 1968 by Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon, carefully retraced and validated the account and concluded it to be accurate.

This is the third feature film directed by British director Steve McQueen. The screenplay was written by John Ridley. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup. Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard are all featured in supporting roles. Principal photography took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. The locations used were four historic antebellum plantations: Felicity, Magnolia, Bocage, and Destrehan. Of the four, Magnolia is nearest to the actual plantation where Northup was held.

12 Years a Slave received widespread critical acclaim, by critics and audiences, for its acting (particularly for Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong'o), Steve McQueen's direction, screenplay, production values, and its faithfulness to Solomon Northup's account. It was named the best film of the year by several media outlets. It also proved to be a box office success, earning over $178 million on a production budget of $18 million. The film won three Academy Awards: Best Picture (becoming the first film made by a black director or producer to receive the Academy's highest honour), Best Supporting Actress for Nyong'o and Best Adapted Screenplay for Ridley. It was awarded the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts recognised the film with the Best Film and the Best Actor award for Ejiofor.


Cinema Trailer

 

 

Cast

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup
Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps
Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey
Sarah Paulson as Mary Epps
Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford
Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass
Paul Dano as John Tibeats
Adepero Oduye as Eliza
Paul Giamatti as Theophilus Freeman
Garret Dillahunt as Armsby
Scoot McNairy as Merrill Brown
Taran Killam as Abram Hamilton
Chris Chalk as Clemens Ray
Michael K. Williams as Robert
Liza J. Bennett as Mistress Ford
Kelsey Scott as Anne Northup
Alfre Woodard as Mistress Harriet Shaw
Quvenzhané Wallis as Margaret Northup Devyn A. Tyler as Adult Margaret NorthupCameron Zeigler as Alonzo Northup
Rob Steinberg as Parker
Jay Huguley as Sheriff Villiere
Christopher Berry as James Birch
Bryan Batt as Judge Turner
Bill Camp as Ebenezer Radburn
Dwight Henry as Uncle Abram
Deneen Tyler as Phebe
Ruth Negga as Celeste

Development

After meeting screenwriter John Ridley at a Creative Artists Agency screening of Hunger in 2008, director Steve McQueen got in touch with Ridley expressing interest in making a film about 'the slave era in America' with 'a character that was not obvious in terms of their trade in slavery.' Developing the idea back and forth, the two did not strike a chord until McQueen's wife found Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir 'Twelve Years a Slave'. McQueen later told an interviewer:

" I read this book, and I was totally stunned. At the same time I was pretty upset with myself that I didn't know this book. I live in Amsterdam where Anne Frank is a national hero, and for me this book read like Anne Frank's diary but written 97 years before – a firsthand account of slavery. I basically made it my passion to make this book into a film."

The film was the subject of a lengthy development process, during which Brad Pitt's production company Plan B Entertainment backed the project, and this eventually helped obtain financing from various film studios. The film was officially announced in August 2011 with McQueen to direct and Chiwetel Ejiofor to star as Solomon Northup, a free negro who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. McQueen compared Ejiofor's conduct 'of class and dignity' to that of Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. In October 2011, Michael Fassbender (who starred in McQueen's previous films Hunger and Shame) joined the cast. The remainder of the roles were cast in early 2012.

To capture the language and dialects of the era and regions in which the film takes place, dialect coach Michael Buster was brought in to assist the cast in altering their speech. The language has a literary quality related to the style of writing of the day and the strong influence of the King James Bible. Buster explained:

" We don't know what slaves sounded like in the 1840s, so I just used rural samples from Mississippi and Louisiana [for actors Ejiofor and Fassbender]. Then for Benedict [Cumberbatch], I found some real upper-class New Orleanians from the '30s. And then I also worked with Lupita Nyong'o, who's Kenyan but she did her training at Yale. So she really shifted her speech so she could do American speech."

After both won Oscars at the 86th Academy Awards, it was reported that McQueen and Ridley had been in an ongoing feud over screenplay credit. McQueen reportedly had asked Ridley for shared credit, which he declined. McQueen appealed to Fox Searchlight, which sided with Ridley. Neither thanked the other during their respective acceptance speeches at the event. Since the event, Ridley has noted his regret for not mentioning McQueen and denied the feud. He spoke favourably of working with McQueen, and explained that his sole screenplay credit was due to the rules of the Writers Guild of America. McQueen has not commented on the alleged feud.

Filming

With a production budget of $20 million, principal photography began in New Orleans, Louisiana, on 27 June 2012. After seven weeks, filming concluded on 13 August 2012. As a way to keep down production costs, the bulk of the filming took place around the greater New Orleans area – mostly south of the Red River country in the North of the state, where the historic Northup was enslaved. Among locations used were four historic antebellum plantations: Felicity, Magnolia, Bocage, and Destrehan. Magnolia, a plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana, is just a few miles from one of the historic sites where Northup was held. "To know that we were right there in the place where these things occurred was so powerful and emotional," said actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. "That feeling of dancing with ghosts – it's palpable." Filming also took place at the Columns Hotel and Madame John's Legacy in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, the film's primary camera operator, shot 12 Years a Slave on 35 mm film with a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio using both an Arricam LT and ST. "Particularly for a period piece, film gives the audience a definite sense of period and quality," said Bobbitt. "And because of the story's epic nature, widescreen clearly made the most sense. Widescreen means a big film, an epic tale – in this case an epic tale of human endurance."

The filmmakers avoided the desaturated visual style that is typical of a more gritty documentary aesthetic. Deliberately drawing visual comparisons in the filming to the works of Spanish painter Francisco Goya, McQueen explained:

" When you think about Goya, who painted the most horrendous pictures of violence and torture and so forth, and they're amazing, exquisite paintings, one of the reasons they're such wonderful paintings is because what he's saying is, 'Look – look at this.' So if you paint it badly or put it in the sort of wrong perspective, you draw more attention to what's wrong with the image rather than looking at the image."

Illustration from Twelve Years a Slave (1855)

Music

The musical score to 12 Years a Slave was composed by Hans Zimmer, with original on-screen violin music written and arranged by Nicholas Britell and performed by Tim Fain. The film also features a few pieces of western classical and American folk music such as Franz Schubert's "Trio in B-flat, D471" and John and Alan Lomax's arrangement of "Run, Nigger, Run".

A soundtrack album, 'Music from and Inspired by 12 Years a Slave', was released digitally and received a physical format release on 11 November 2013 by Columbia Records.

In addition to Zimmer's score, the album features music inspired by the film by artists such as John Legend, Laura Mvula, Alicia Keys, Chris Cornell, and Alabama Shakes. Legend's cover of "Roll, Jordan, Roll" debuted online three weeks prior to the soundtrack's release.

Design

To accurately depict the time period of the film, the filmmakers conducted extensive research that included studying artwork from the era.

With eight weeks to create the wardrobe, costume designer Patricia Norris collaborated with Western Costume to compile costumes that would illustrate the passage of time while also being historically accurate. Using an earth tone color palette, Norris created nearly 1,000 costumes for the film. "She [Norris] took earth samples from all three of the plantations to match the clothes," McQueen said, "and she had the conservation with Sean [Bobbitt] to deal with the character temperature on each plantation; there was a lot of that minute detail."

The filmmakers also used some pieces of clothing discovered on set that were worn by slaves.