Solomon Northup’s, 12 Years a Slave provides us with a different outlook on slavery. The movie gives viewers an up close and personal look at North’s days as a slave and the different obstacles he faced. The film is set in 1841 in upstate New York and then moves to New Orleans. Northup was a free-born African American living in upstate New York with his wife and three children under the occupation of a violinist. You could say he lived the ideal life for someone of his stature and ethnicity; He had a family, job, and was free.
Some could only dream of leading such a life, so much that it was only a fantasy to escape everyday life. During this time it was still uncommon and unheard of to see free African Americans in the North. In the movie, Solomon is portrayed to be a wealthy and well off man compared to those being enslaved. This just makes the difference between the two different lives free and enslaved people lived greater. But his life was soon to revolve. Everything changed when he was offered a job in Washington, D. C. y two white con men.
He was deceived and drugged being integrated into the slave market. This is where he is bought by slave owner, Burch, where he is then transferred to New Orleans. It was disturbing to see him being treated as an object rather than a human. At this point Northup is considered a slave under the alias “Platt”. It’s unsettling to think that in the blink of an eye everything you fought for and worked to build is reduced to nothingness. North’s life was dispelled and replaced by a name that was not him.
But as if things were not already appalling he was transported to another slaveholder by the name of Edwin Epps. Epps was a cruel person that found immense pleasure in the mistreatment of slaves. He is seen many times throughout the film in the unjustful act of whipping slaves. Northup’s new life as a slave begin here followed by many other events. Though there are many historical issues in the film, 12 Years a Slave, one of the most impactful issues was the one of enslavement of African Americans. This issue is a big part of history and was significant in the fight against slavery.
It was a nightmarish era in American History. African Americans could be seen in the film being sold, beaten, starved, and extorted. Northup was an educated man who could read and write but when he was captured he was forced to act as if he was not capable to. The white supremacist posing as slave owners did everything in their power to make blacks feel like animals. Epps even goes as far as to compare them to baboons. He says, “They ain’t hired help. They’re my property. ”, he is suggesting that they are in fact only property that can be bought and sold.
Therefore Epps is justifying that what he is doing is right. At this time period in the South, slavery was at its height. Most of the population was whites who were pro-slavery. They needed people that could work long hours in the fields without pay. African Americans were the perfect option for them because they could control them with force and did not need to be paid. Also whites felt they did not have much to live for and were already not considered human beings. Hence the slave market was born benefiting only the caucasian people and their lifestyle. Freedom.
It was something many slaves dreamed of to get them through the day. This movie is different from other movies about slavery and freedom because of Northup’s unique case. He was a free-born man that was then captured and made a slave opposed to being born into slavery. His experiences are far different than that of someone born into slavery. Throughout his fight to regain freedom Solomon stayed strong and confident that he would return to his life one day. Solomon says, “I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune! ”.
This quote shows how even though he was faced with the worst he would not be consumed with grief. While working on a task given by his master, Northup meets a white man by the name of Bass. Bass unlike others whites was against the horrible treatment of African Americans calling it “horrid and “unjust”. When an opportunity presents itself for him to speak to Epps, Solomons slaveowner, he takes it. They get into a disagreement of how slaves should be treated and what the law says about it. Epps believes they are just property; Bass disagrees saying, “Listen, Epps, these slaves* are human beings.
If they are allowed to climb no higher than brute animals, you and men like you will have to answer for it. There is an ill, Mr. Epps. A fearful ill resting upon this nation. And there will be a day of reckoning yet. ”. At this time in history slavery was not illegal but Bass believed it was to be changed. Throughout the movie Bass and North form an unlikely and deadly friendship. Their similar beliefs brings them to a mutual understanding and agreement. It comes to a point where Bass says, “I will write your letter, sir. And if it brings you your freedom, it will be more than a pleasure.
It will have been my duty. ”. He was willing to risk his life for a cause he believed in. Freedom made many slaves and even Bass risk their lives for something they conceived in. The issue of the embodiment of slaves is something that came up quite often in, 12 Years a Slave. Slaves were often compared to property, animals, and savages. I would never compare anyone to these harsh words. But for some this was a reality. Daily these words were inscribed in their mind. So often, that some started to believe this was who they were, their ultimate purpose.
North did not let these words define him, he used them as fuel to get through his ordeal. Even now in the twenty-first century society is still accustomed to using certain stigmatisms when it comes to a people group. Another slave owner Freeman says, “You see how fit the boy is. Like ripe fruit. He will grow into a fine beast. ”. Here is an example of a slave being compared to a beast. This is the mindset many slave traders had; they believed if they thought of slaves as not human it made it much easier to continue with their inhumane acts.
By giving them an alias and a “new life” with a false background it rationalized their acts. But every guilty person is his own hangman. In conclusion, Steve McQueen’s film, 12 Years a Slave, was a full range of historical events in the 1800s. He captured the essence of Solomon Northup’s journey from being free to being enslaved. Seeing as the movie took place pre-Civil War it aids in the understanding of why it took place. This movie was just a minor event leading up to the war for freedom. The actors portrayed this part of American History well.
The director made Solomon’s life seem so amazing; which in that day and age it most likely was not exactly how it was. By doing this he made the difference between enslaved and freed people seem great. This drew more attention to the issue of slavery. But despite North being free he still was treated differently than whites and insulted. The movie did not portray that but I understand why not. Overall 12 Years a Slave was a pronounced biopic on the life of Solomon Northup. It served as a great way to illustrate the impacts of slavery both then and now.