STILLS: Fox Searchlight
British director Steve McQueen's critically-acclaimed film 12 Years a Slave opens today in major cities across the country. The screenplay was written by John Ridley and adapted from the 1853 autobiography of the same name by Solomon Northup. 12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor—quite impressive in Dirty Pretty Things and Children of Men—as a free and educated Northern man of color who was abducted in 1841 and sold into slavery for twelve years. Michael Fassbender co-stars as the cruel slave owner Edwin Epps.
A notorious and psychotic slave breaker, Epps, superbly acted by the fearless Fassbender, is the absolute ruler of a disturbing alternate universe of his own devising, one characterized by his alternating passion for and disgust with the slave Patsy (Lupita Nyong'o), his sexual chattel as well as the best field hand on his plantation.
Effectively shot by McQueen's longtime cinematographer Sean Bobbitt on several real Louisiana plantations, "12 Years" explores a number of odd corners of the slavery situation, like the slave Mistress Shaw (Alfre Woodard) who is married to the plantation owner and serves an elaborate tea on Sunday mornings.
Though its title suggests a temporary condition, the film forcefully, but subtly, nods toward a frightening permanency. By unflinchingly illustrating the foundational mechanics of America's worst crime, 12 Years a Slave says much about this country's legacy of racism up to the present day. The film's many plain and horrible truths shame us for not addressing these appalling facts every day, in myriad ways.
Survival is the overarching theme in the latest offering from director Steve McQueen's (Shame, Hunger)—both the end of the oppressor and the oppressed are struggling for it.12 Years a Slave succeeds where other films have failed by exposing the human toll of the slave industrial complex; the most egregious of which was forcing every individual—master, slave or otherwise—to abandon hope of life outside it.
12 Years a Slave premiered in August at the Telluride Film Festival where it won the top award. It later screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival. It opens in limited release today with a nationwide release on November 1.
Watch the trailer, as well as interviews with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender AFTER THE JUMP ...