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Alleva, Richard. "An everyday nightmare: '12 years a slave.'" Commonweal 140.19 (2013): 23+.
12 Years a Slave could have easily have been a sadomasochistic film because of the brutal cruelty that occurs in the source material, but writer John Ridley and director Steve McQueen have created something better than a "theater of cruelty." The characters, both enslaved and free, are negatively affected by slavery, and the audience is forced to view the painful proceedings. This article offers insight about some of the characters, such as the disturbing Edwin Epps' rationalization of his abuse of the hard-working Patsey. Despite some problems with the stilted writing, this film should be regarded as one of the best films ever made owing to the terrific cast and McQueen's visual parallels.
Garrett, Daniel. "The Free Mind of a Man an Captivity: 12 Years a Slave Book and Film." Senses of Cinema 72 (2014): 1-19. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
Garrett offers an essential overview of the history of American slavery; its portrayal in film from Birth of a Nation to the present; Northup's compelling, rewarding memoir; and Steve McQueen's successful adaptation. 12 Years a Slave is a great film that recounts not only one man's experience but also the survival of many throughout the long history of U.S. slavery. The film is a remarkable historical document but also "a document of how humanity is threatened and preserved."
Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "12 Years a Slave: A Conversation with Steve McQueen." Transition: An International Review 114 (2013): 185+.
Harvard professor and public intellectual Henry Louis Gates speaks with McQueen about the decisions he made throughout the filmmaking process. McQueen explains that he wanted to make a film about slavery, and he discovered Northup's book once his wife suggested he investigate slave narratives. McQueen emphasizes the importance of the timing of the film, which coincided with the presidency of Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States. He states that at this time the audience was receptive to this message and that without President Obama's cultural influence, this film would not have been made.
Kellner, Douglas. "The Horrors of Slavery and Modes of Representation in Amistad and 12 Years a Slave." Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media 56 (2014): 29. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text.
Three films focused on slavery are discussed: McQueen's 12 Years a Slave (2013); Gordon Park's Solomon Northup's Odyssey (1984); and Steven Spielberg's Amistad (1997). 12 Years a Slave is more focused on the intense horrors of enslavement than the other two films and forces the audience to experience the cruelties of slavery as well. Amistad is determined to give a broader view of the system of slavery while also focusing on the trial of the slaves who revolted onboard. Solomon Northup's Odyssey uses classical realist modes of representation: the story is straightforward, follows clear logic, and is made to seem real. 12 Years a Slave is a modernist representation, which means that it is innovative and more focused on the telling of the story rather than the actual story. Amistad also uses modernist methods, such as the opening scene which includes dramatic music, fragments of images, and quick cutting.
Laffly, Tomris. "12 Years a Slave." Film Journal International 116.11 (2013): 132-34. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. Web. 29 Feb. 2016.
This article focuses on the gruesome realities in 12 Years A Slave and its unflinching portrayal of Northup's horrific experience. Laffly contends that there is no easy way to portray historical atrocities like slavery. Previous films such as Django Unchained, Amistad, and Lincoln attempted to represent the history of slavery, but Solomon Northup's story was completely unique: a true first-hand account of a man who goes from being a free person to being someone's possession. McQueen does not make it easy to watch and listen to Northup's suffering: he tells the truth, no matter how brutal.
Marsh, Calum. "12 Years a Slave." Sight & Sound 24.2 (2014): 91. Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Features director Steve McQueen's career and his skills as a very good visual artist. Also addresses some of the decisions McQueen made regarding the film adaptation of Northup's book, such as streamlining the plot and selecting the title.
Northup, Solomon, David Wilson, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2011.
The text on which the film was based. Writing with the assistance of David Wilson, Solomon Northup relays events before, during, and after his capture. Northup wrote to give an accurate portrayal of enslavement in America, regarding the horrors, struggles, and other experiences he endured, including the numerous slave owners he encountered and for whom he worked. Northup describes owner William Ford as kind and noble, but another owner, Edwin Epps, finds sadistic delight in whipping and hearing the screams of slaves. By reading the source text, one can examine the similarities and differences with the film. For example, the film omits such key scenes as Solomon's unsuccessful conspiracy to revolt on the boat to New Orleans and his failed lawsuit against his kidnappers. See also .
Urban, Andrew. "Art As an Ally To Public History: 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained." Public Historian 36.1 (2014): 81-86. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
Urban focuses on the historical accuracy of 12 Years, which is largely owing to Steve McQueen's fidelity to Northup's 1853 text. Urban aids public historians by creating a counternarrative to such films as Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind. The most recent previous film about slavery, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, which is influenced by Blaxploitation films and Spaghetti Westerns, perhaps assumes too much historical knowledge on the part of audiences. In contrast, 12 Years stays immersed in the physical and historical realities of slavery.

See Also

Beck, Bernard. "An American Nightmare: Remembered Wrongs in 12 Years a Slave." Multicultural Perspectives 16.3 (2014): 148-51. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

Doherty, Thomas. "12 Years a Slave." Journal of American History 101.1 (2014): 357-60. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

Online Resources

"'12 Years' Is The Story Of a Slave Whose End Is a Mystery." Weekend Edition Saturday 19 Oct. 2013.

"12 Years a Slave Special Feature.... Starring Chiwetel, Fassbender and Brad Pitt." YouTube. YouTube, 3 Sept. 2013.
Interview with the three producers of the film and Chiwetel Ejiofor touches upon the larger role of the film: how this story is a symbol for the millions of slaves who were forced into labor. Albeit a short commentary, it is nonetheless heavy with insightful quotes about the film and historical role of Northup and slavery in general. Major soundbites are 1:50-2:16, 2:25-3:16, 3:58-4:24, 4:51-5:17.

"12 Years a Slave True Story - Real Solomon Northup, Edwin Epps."

"12 Years Auditions - Saturday Night Live." YouTube. YouTube, 2 Mar. 2014. Web.

"'12 Years A Slave' Was a Film That 'No One Was Making'." Fresh Air 24 Oct. 2013.
Terry Gross speaks with the star Chiwetel Ejiofor and the director Steve McQueen. They discuss how the film was made and decisions that were made throughout the filmmaking process. They reveal why they wished to involve themselves in such a work: Ejiofor explains that he was raised to believe in the African diaspora, and McQueen said that it was a film that he wished to see but that no one was making. McQueen had the idea of a film about a slave that was kidnapped before he even discovered the book. The purpose of this piece was to gain further insight into the current cinematic perspective of 12 Years a Slave.
"'12 Years' Gets Story Right but Context, Some Details May Be Off." All Things Considered 23 Dec. 2013.
Robert Siegel interviews Dr. William Andrews, a professor from the University of North Carolina, to discuss the accuracy of the film and how it adapts the story from the original widely-sold slave narrative. Andrews reveals that even though Northup had a ghostwriter for his book, he played an active role in the editorial process. Additionally, while the film adopts most of the main concepts from the narrative, it is important to note that it is also a Hollywood production designed to capture the imaginations and hearts of millions of viewers. For example, in his book, Northup describes his living situation from before he was kidnapped as comfortable, but in the film he is shown as living a grand, upper-class lifestyle before his capture. These kinds of "Hollywood" choices were made to increase the division between Northup's life in freedom and in slavery.

Denby, David. "Fighting To Survive." The New Yorker 21 Oct. 2013: 108.

"For a Free Spirit, A Grim '12 Years' in Chains." All Things Considered 18 Oct. 2013.

"Historian Says '12 Years' Is a Story the Nation Must Remember." Fresh Air 24 Oct. 2013.
NPR's Terry Gross interviews Dr. David Blight, director of the Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University, regarding the deeper importance of Northup's story. He explains that Solomon Northup's story and ones like it are not ones that are often told. The two examine how the power of literacy in a slave is valuable, one of the only tools that Solomon uses to regain his freedom. Additionally, Blight and Gross note that there are not that many precise slave narratives such as Northup's, with the accurate and clear memory of names, places, and the types of economies that surrounded massive sugar and cotton operations.

Lieblich, Mollie. "The Cultural Significance of Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave - US History Scene." US History Scene.

"Lupita and Alfre Discuss Their Roles in 12 Years a Slave." YouTube. YouTube, 9 Oct. 2013. Web.

Michael Fassbender Interview 12 YEARS A SLAVE." YouTube. YouTube, 7 Oct. 2013. Web.

"Steve McQueen: A Lot of People Didn't Want 12 Years a Slave to Be Made." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 05 Oct. 2014.

Williams, John. "Oscar Hopeful Revives Searing Memoir." New York Times Book Review 1 Dec. 2013: 4(L).