Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> 12 Years a Slave (2013) >>

Solomon Northup, a free black man residing in Saratoga, N.Y., lives a relatively normal life: he has a family, a home, and a profound ability to play the violin, a skill that has garnered him much praise from the community. But when two men offer him an opportunity to play alongside them while they travel to Washington, D.C., Solomon’s life is changed forever. Hamilton and Brown, the men who offered him the position, drug him and sell him into slavery. Solomon is thrust into a world of horrors, as everything he once knew to be true is savagely beaten out of him both physically and emotionally. Solomon must learn to quickly adapt to life as a slave, as his ability to do so could prove the difference between life and death. He is sent to New Orleans and sold to William Ford, a preacher and owner of a large plantation who adopts an almost sympathetic attitude towards slaves. While working for Ford, Solomon quickly learns not to fight back when he defends himself from Tibeats, the carpenter with whom he works. Solomon is almost lynched in the process but is ultimately saved by a plantation overseer. In order to protect Solomon, Ford sells him to Edwin Epps, a man who epitomizes the malevolent side of slavery. Known as the “nigger-breaker,” Epps will put Solomon through the ultimate test of survival as well as do everything in his power to strip Solomon of his freedom and humanity. With just the few distant memories he still has, Solomon must overcome the atrocities of slavery in the hope that one day he will regain his freedom and the life that was once taken from him.