When I started writing The Unchained Trilogy, I read several slave narratives to help me with my research. I had not read Twelve Years a Slave, and wasn't even familiar with it. But now I have the opportunity to read the book--and see the movie.
Solomon Northup (July 1808 – after 1857) was a free-born African American from Saratoga Springs, New York. He is noted for having been kidnapped in 1841 when enticed with a job offer. When he accompanied his supposed employers to Washington, DC, they drugged him and sold him into slavery. From Washington, DC, he was transported to New Orleans where he was sold to a plantation owner from Rapides Parish, Louisiana. After 12 years in bondage, he regained his freedom in January 1853; he was one of very few to do so in such cases. Held in the Red River region of Louisiana by several different owners, he got news to his family, who contacted friends and enlisted the Governor of New York, Washington Hunt in his cause. New York state had passed a law in 1840 to recover African-American residents who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery.
Slave narratives are fascinating, but very sad and truly difficult to read. Although reading Solomon Northup's story will be heart wrenching, watching the movie will be even more tortuous.
|Scene from Twelve Years a Slave|
Hollywood’s portrayals of American slavery have run the gamut — from all but romanticizing it in “Gone with the Wind” to riffing ironically on it in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” A new film, “12 Years a Slave,” offers something different: a faithful, unvarnished depiction of everyday life as a slave, and of all the horrors that went with it. Based on the 1841 kidnapping into slavery of Solomon Northrup, a free black man from Saratoga, N.Y., the film is told from a slave’s point of view, with Northrup’s agony eloquently portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor. One thing that comes through is the arbitrariness of the institution; slaves deemed unsatisfactory or rebellious were whipped, or strung up, in a blind rage by their owners. Other owners harbored moral conflicts about the “peculiar institution,” but nevertheless allowed slaves’ families to be broken up.I want to say I'm looking forward to seeing the movie--and I am--but it'll be hard. I'll be sure to have tissues handy.
Is Twelve Years A Slave on your "To See" or "To Read" list? If you've had a chance to read it, or a seen the movie, what did you think?
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