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- 12 Years a Slave (2013)
- This film is based on a true story about the African American Solomon Northrup who was born as a free man in New York in 1808. In 1841, however, he was tricked into a fatal trap. Solomon was a renowned violin player, and under the pretense of a tour and the prospect of earning a good deal of money, he accompanied what turned out to be traffickers to Washington D.C. There he was captured, sold off at the slave market and shipped to Louisiana to labor in the cotton and sugar cane fields. After toiling 12 years for more or less brutal and abusive plantation owners, his contacts in New York came to his rescue. After Solomon’s escape, he wrote a memoir called Twelve Years a Slave (1853), where he describes his years as a slave.
- 12 Years a Slave (2013)
- 1. Describe the protagonist of this story, Solomon Northrup.
- a. Solomon was a black man who lived in New York. He was married and had one boy and one girl.
- 2. Why could Solomon Northrup be a free man in New York?
- a. He could be a free man in New York because he had his papers there. Because of those papers he was legally a free man.
- 3. Compare the two plantation owners and slave masters Mr. Ford and Mr. Epps. How are they alike, and how do they differ from each other?
- a. Mr. Ford and Mr. Epps had black slaves. Mr. Ford gave permission to the slaves so they could punish each other. Mr. Epps did not let his slaves punish each other, he did the punishing himself. Ford was treating his slaves good, while Epps was treating them like trash.
- 4. What do you think makes Solomon keep going and not give up throughout the story?
- a. I think he did not give up because he knew that he would be rescued and transported home sometime. He kept himself alive because he had a strong bond to his family, and decided to not give up.
- 5. In what ways is Solomon stripped of his humanity? Describe some of the severe violations of basic human rights depicted in the movie.
- a. He was stripped of his humanity because he was literally treated like trash along with the other slaves. They were punished really hard, often by getting whipped. They also did hard labor and did not have access to clean clothes etc.
- 6. How does Solomon’s identity and experiences as a free man influence his actions when
- kidnapped and enslaved? How does it influence his understanding of what is happening?
- I think he thought the changes were really hard for him. He was quite wealthy and was turned into a slave. I don’t think he understood what happened until a while later.
- 7. This is a very brutal movie that includes several violent scenes portraying torture, rape, murders and racist language. What examples of brutality stand out, and what are your opinions on how violence is portrayed in the movie? Do you think it is necessary?
- a. In my opinion the scenes where they were showing rape and punishing were the worst. I think it is necessary because it makes the memories of the movie burn into your head, which again makes you remember the brutality of the past.
- Discuss orally with a partner:
- 1. Do you think justice is served at the end of the movie? Why or why not?
- 2. Consider the female characters in the film: Patsey, Mistress Shaw (Mr. Epps wife) and Eliza (who was separated from her children). What are their challenges, and how do they cope with these challenges?
- 3. The character Bass, acted by Brad Pitt, has an interesting conversation with Master Epps near the end of the film about the institution of slavery. Revisit the scene and find out where Bass is from, and what his opinions and ideas are compared to Epps on the following topics:
- a. Justice
- b. Righteousness
- c. Law
- d. Property/ownership
- 4. Can movies like 12 years a slave influence attitudes and make people more aware of racism?
- 5. Consider these quotes
- a. Knowledge and education cannot be taken away from an individual
- b. The most effective way to control another person is to dehumanize them
- c. An unjust system traps both the victim and the perpetrators.
- 6. Whom does Northrup blame in his story: the system of slavery, or the individuals that captured and enslaved him personally?
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