12 Years a Slave
Winter 2014 wWednesday series
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 at 7:00pm
Directed by Steve McQueen
Screenplay by John Ridley
Starring Michael Fassbender, Michael K. Williams, and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Rated 14A ·
USA / UK
12 Years a Slave
Director Steve McQueen follows his acclaimed films Hunger and Shame with this fact-based story of a 19th-century freeman kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. Winner of the 2013 BlackBerry People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, 12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men) atop an extraordinary cast that includes Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre), Paul Giamatti (Barney’s Version, Sideways), and Benedict Cumberbatch (The Fifth Estate, The Whistleblower).
In Saratoga Springs, New York, 1841, Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) makes his living as a musician. After accepting a job offer from two men to play for a circus, he finds himself kidnapped, transported to the South and sold into slavery. Forced to take a new name, he is thrown together with other enslaved African Americans, each suffering through gruelling labour, daily humiliations, and the pain of having their families torn apart. For Northup, there is an added nightmare: the memory of the freedom he so recently enjoyed.
Working with the enormously talented Ejiofor, McQueen crafts a portrait of a man who refuses to let slavery extinguish his spirit. Denied the most basic human expression and subjected to brutal punishments Northup still manages to hold on to his dignity. Supporting Ejiofor are extraordinary performances from Fassbender, Giamatti, Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o. There’s even a small role for Brad Pitt, a producer on the film, as a Canadian abolitionist.
Powerful, visceral, and often heartbreaking, 12 Years a Slave vividly and unforgettably communicates the horrors of slave society.
“12 Years a Slave is easily the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery… the movie leaves us grieving for the thousands who never knew freedom, who were never able to tell their stories for future generations.” (David Denby, The New Yorker)
“This is not a sprawling Spielbergian tearjerker, but neither is it an aloof, artsy affair. McQueen pitches his tent somewhere between the two camps: whenever Hans Zimmer’s overbearing score threatens to drag the film into three-hankie territory, the clinical photography and hard, unflashy performances bring it right back. It’s a film made for a mass audience but it doesn’t want them to feel comfortable for a second. What 12 Years a Slave is really interested in is creating an honest, believable experience: in culture and context, place and people, soil and skin. The result can, at times, be alienating—Solomon may be a tragic, achingly sympathetic figure, but he’s no cathartic hero. He is, at all times, a victim. Nonetheless, the cumulative emotional effect is devastating: the final scenes here are as angry, as memorable, as overwhelming as anything modern cinema has to offer.” (Tom Huddleston, Time Out London)
“12 Years a Slave isn’t the first movie about slavery in the United States—but it may be the one that finally makes it impossible for American cinema to continue to sell the ugly lies it’s been hawking for more than a century. It’s at once a familiar, utterly strange and deeply American story in which the period trappings long beloved by Hollywood—the paternalistic gentry with their pretty plantations, their genteel manners and all the fiddle-dee-dee rest—are the backdrop for an outrage. The genius of 12 Years a Slave is its insistence on banal evil, and on terror, that seeped into souls, bound bodies and reaped an enduring, terrible price.” (Manohla Dargis, The New York Times)