Donate Now to Support KDHX

Listen Live
Friday, 01 November 2013 01:00

'12 Years a Slave' overflows with horrible history + Video

'12 Years a Slave' overflows with horrible history
Written by Martha K. Baker
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Related Video

About this Media...

  • Director: Steve McQueen
  • Dates: Opens Nov. 1, 2013

The violence in "12 Years a Slave" is hard to take. It cannot be dismissed as cartoonish or video game-ish, for it is too close to the bone, the baddest bone of American history. For the South to thrive with rice or cotton as king, the region needed hands to work the land.

The South bought slaves for the work. Not all slaves came from Africa; some came from the Northern United States, free women and free men sold into slavery by unscrupulous citizens who believed the Bible and their own ignorance and ascribed to black people the position of beast and, therefore, chattel.

Solomon Northup was an engineer and a violinist in Saratoga, N.Y. He had a beloved wife and two children. Twists of fate and bad decisions left him shackled in a cell near Washington, D.C., having been sold into slavery. For the next 12 years, according to his memoir, probably recorded by a white man, Northup slaved. He was taught not to trust, not to reveal that he could read or write, not even to admit to his real name after some other man's was accorded him. He did what he could to help those around him, but he learned the hard way to look out for himself. He never really lost hope, not utterly, that he would be a free man again.

In those year, he saw beatings, he gave beatings, and he was lynched like strange fruit almost to death. He heard awful, wretched things about himself and his race. Northup endured and persevered, and only the knowledge that the film is based on his book hints that he would come out of enslavement alive.

Chiwetel Ejiofor embodies Solomon Northup. Why, there's nary a hint of the drag queen he played in "Kinky Boots"! His silences are as eloquent as his confessions. Ejiofor is surrounded by a cast of gold, including Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis from "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; Alfre Woodard; and Sarah Paulson as a hateful plantation mistress with Michael Fassbender as a wicked master. Bryan Batt from "Mad Men" and Adepero Oduye from "Pariah" are here, as are Michael K. Williams, Omar from "The Wire," Garrett Dillahunt from "Raising Hope" and "Winter's Bone," and Paul Giamatti. A kindly slaver is played by Benedict Cumberbatch (yes, Sherlock Holmes), and a miserable overseer is played by Paul Dano. And, in the end, one of the producers, Brad Pitt, appears.

Director Steve McQueen has done a magnificent job with a diversity of colors in skin and sound, with skrims of Spanish moss against sunsets, with flashbacks of flashbacks and close-ups, some odd at first, and with American history, writ large and credible. "12 Years a Slave" is commendable.

Sponsor Message

Become a Sponsor

Find KDHX Online

KDHX on Instagram
KDHX on YouTube
KDHX on SoundCloud
KDHX on Facebook
KDHX on Twitter
KDHX on flickr

KDHX Recommends


A Muscle Shoals Music Revue with Amy Black and Sarah Borges

Join powerhouse singers Amy Black and Sarah Borges for a soulful celebration of the incredible music that came out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama in the 1960s and 70s. Together, with a full band, they will perform classic songs originally...


Brunch at the Stage: Jonathan Ramsey

KDHX is now curating a Saturday brunch series at the Stage with live music from local musicians and delicious, locally-sourced food and drinks from the Magnolia Café. Brunch at the Stage takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m....


KDHX Get Down to Business Series: How to Land, and Nail, an Interview

KDHX and Arcade Apartments present the Get Down to Business series at the Stage. Get Down to Business is a series of professional development presentations geared towards the St. Louis arts community. On Tuesday, July 14th, at 7...

Get Answers!

If you have questions or need to contact KDHX, visit our answers portal at

Online Users

5 users and 12180 guests online
Sign in with Facebook


Login/My Account

Sign in with Facebook