Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a Slave (typeset 12 Years a Slave ), or slave for twelve years inQuebec, is adrama historic joint British-Americanproduced and directed bySteve McQueen, released in2013.

This is the adaptation of the autobiography Twelve Years of Slavery by Solomon Northup ( 1853 ); he is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor , accompanied by Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o in secondary roles. The film is set in the America of the 1840s and tells the story of Northup, a free man African American ( ” free negro ” in English), is kidnapped and sold as a slave in a plantation in Louisiana .

Presented at the Telluride Film Festival , the film received an extremely positive response from critics. After the Toronto Festival’s People’s Choice Award , he received the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards , where he was nominated in eight other categories; Lupita Nyong’o , he is the first film as an actress, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and John Ridley that the best adapted screenplay . During the 67 th ceremony of the BAFTA Awards , the film won the BAFTA Award for Best Filmand Chiwetel Ejiofor that of the best actor .


In 1841 , Solomon Northup is a free man who lives with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs , New York . He earns his living as a carpenter and violin player . One day, he is approached by two men, so-called artists, who drug him and chained him before selling him as a slave .

Solomon is sent by boat to New Orleans , where he is called “Platt” before being bought by a plantation owner named William Ford . Although Solomon is his slave, he gets on well with Ford, who turns out to be a relatively benevolent master. When Solomon offers a new technique for transporting trees to Ford, saving time and money, the latter offers him a good fiddle. But the carpenteremployed by Ford, John Tibeats, is jealous of Solomon’s success and begins to put a spoke in the wheels, threatening him verbally and physically. The tensions between Tibeats and Solomon reach their peak when Tibeats hits him and defends himself. In revenge, Tibeats and two of his friends try to lynch him . To protect him from the wrath of his carpenter, Ford is finally forced to sell Solomon to Edwin Epps, a cruel and impulsive owner who is convinced that his right to abuse his slaves is authorized by the Bible .

At the Epps plantation, Solomon picks up cotton . Each slave must pick up at least 90 kg ( 200  pounds ), otherwise it will be whipped. However, a young slave named Patsey harvests 500 pounds of cotton a day (about 220 kg ). Her beauty and talent attract the attention of her master, but make the wife of Epps jealous; it disadvantages her and hits her while her husband rapes her on a regular basis. When a disease comes down on cotton, attributed by Epps to a sign of God, the slaverent his slaves to a neighboring plantation for the season as the crops recover. Again, Solomon wins the favors of the owner who asks him to play his violin on various occasions.

When Solomon returns to the Epps plantation, he tries to use the little money he has been able to recover here and there to convince a former white foreman who became a farm worker to send a letter to his friends in New York. The man accepts and takes the money, before denouncing Solomon to Epps. After having just managed to convince his master that the story was wrong, Solomon burned the letter that represented his only hope for freedom. At the same time, Patsey’s state gets worse as Epps continues to abuse her. She finally asks Northup for help to commit suicide, which Solomon refuses. One day Patsey disappeared from the plantation, Epps, mad with rage, questions Solomon. When she reappears, explaining that she just went to get a piece of soap, Epps orders her men to undress her and tie her to a tree. Encouraged by his wife, he is about to whip her , but he finally gives Solomon the whip. Solomon reluctantly obeyed, before Epps snatched his whip from his hands and beat her violently until she fainted.

As Patsey’s back heals little by little, Solomon is assigned to build a pavilion on the Epps property along with a Canadian worker named Bass. The latter is offended when he tells him of his opposition to slavery , but this encourages Solomon to confide in him. He tells him his story and convinces him to write to his friends in the North to inform them of his situation. Bass ends up accepting that this prospect scares him.

Several months later, while working in the cotton fields, Solomon sees the local sheriff, accompanied by a white man in whom Solomon recognizes Mr Parker, a trader from Saratoga where he used to do his business. purchases. The sheriff asked him a series of very specific questions in order to establish his identity, such as the children’s first name and his wife’s maiden name. Mr Parker and the sheriff take Solomon despite the protests of Epps who reaffirms his rights on “his negro”. The sheriff admits that the man is undoubtedly Solomon Northup and Parker says they have papers that prove he is a free man.

Solomon hugs Patsey one last time and then gets into Parker’s car. He finds his home and family after being exploited for twelve years. Her children are grown up now, her daughter is married and introduces her husband and baby.

The end notes tell of Solomon’s fight to bring to justice his captors and jailer, who have never been sentenced. They point out that after publishing his book in 1853 he joined the abolitionist movement, gave lectures on slavery at universities in the northeastern United States, and helped runaway slaves. They finally report that the date, the place and the circumstances of his death are unknown.

Technical sheet

  • Original title: 12 Years a Slave
  • French title: Twelve Years a Slave
  • Quebec title: Slave for twelve years
  • Director: Steve McQueen
  • Screenplay: John Ridley , from the autobiography Twelve years of slavery of Solomon Northup
  • Artistic direction: David Stein
  • Sets: Adam Stockhausen and Alice Baker  (en)
  • Costumes: Patricia Norris
  • Photography: Sean Bobbitt
  • Editing: Joe Walker  (en)
  • Music: Hans Zimmer
  • Production: Brad Pitt , Dede Gardner , Jeremy Kleiner , Bill Pohlad , Steve McQueen , Arnon Milchan and Anthony Katagas
  • Production Companies: Regency Enterprises , Film4 Productions , River Road Entertainment and Plan B Entertainment
  • Distribution Company: Fox Searchlight Pictures (USA) ; Mars Distribution (France)
  • Country of origin: United States and United Kingdom
  • Budget: $ 20,000,000 1
  • Original language: English
  • Format: Color – 2.35: 1 – Dolby Digital – 35 mm
  • Genre: historical drama
  • Duration: 133 minutes
  • Release dates:
    • United States :( Telluride Film Festival ); (limited output);  (national release)
    • United Kingdom :
    • France / Belgium :
  • DVD release dates:
    • United States :
    • France :


  • Chiwetel Ejiofor VF : Frantz Confiac, VQ : Marc-André Bélanger ) : Solomon Northup
  • Michael Fassbender VF : Alexis Victor , VQ : Patrice Dubois ) : Edwin Epps
  • Lupita Nyong’o VF : Marie Tirmont , VQ : Annie Girard) : Patsey
  • Benedict Cumberbatch VF : Pierre Tissot , VQ : Frédéric Paquet) : William Ford
  • Paul Dano VF : Donald Reignoux , VQ : Sebastien Reding) : John Tibeats
  • Paul Giamatti VF : Gerard Darier , VQ : Pierre Auger ) : Theophilus Freeman
  • Brad Pitt VF : Jean-Pierre Michael , VQ : Alain Zouvi ) : Samuel Bass
  • Alfre Woodard VF : Maïk Darah ) : Harriet Shaw
  • Sarah Paulson VF : Laura Préjean , VQ : Mélanie Laberge ) : Mary Epps
  • Adepero Oduye VF : Mbembo; VQ : Eveline Gelinas ) : Eliza
  • Quvenzhané Wallis : Margaret Northup
  • Dwight Henry  (en) : Uncle Abram
  • Michael K. Williams VF : John Paul Pitolin ) : Robert
  • Scoot McNairy VF : Thomas Roditi , VQ : Alexis Lefebvre) : Brown
  • Christopher Berry VF : Christophe Lemoine ) : Burch
  • Garret Dillahunt : Armsby
  • Ruth Negga : Celeste
  • Chris Chalk VF : Jean-Baptiste Anoumon ) : Clemens Ray
  • Bryan Batt VF : Gabriel Le Doze ) : Turner JA
  • Storm Reid : Emily



Director Steve McQueen met screenwriter John Ridley during a Hunger screening at the Creative Artists Agency in 2008. He told him about his intention to make a film in “America’s slavery era.” “with a ” character whose relationship with the slave trade is not obvious ” 5 . After several weeks of work, the two men fail to outline a scenario until the woman McQueen finds the memories of Solomon Northup , Twelve years of slavery ( Twelve Years a Slave ) published1853 .

“I read this book and was totally stunned; I was angry at myself for not having discovered this book earlier. I live in Amsterdam where Anne Frank is a national hero, and for me this book was similar to Anne Frank’s Diary , but wrote 97 years earlier: a firsthand account of slavery . I became personally involved in adapting this book to film 6 . “

– Steve McQueen, NPR 7

To transcribe the language and dialects of the time and region where the film takes place, the linguist Michael Buster was engaged by the production to help the actors to appropriate their texts. The language was the literary quality linked to the writing style of the xix th century and the important influence brought by the Bible of King Jacques . Buster explains that “we do not know how slaves spoke in the 1840s , so I just used rural samples from Mississippi and Louisiana[for Ejiofor and Fassbender]. And for Benedict [Cumberbatch], I found an example of the high society of New Orleans in the 1930s. And finally, I worked with Lupita Nyong’o, who is of Kenyan origin but who studied at Yale ; she trained until she had an American accent 8 , 9 ” .


The film was officially announced in August 2011, with McQueen in the implementation and Chiwetel Ejiofor in the role of Solomon Northup , a ” free negro ” kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South of the United States 10 . In October 2011, Michael Fassbender – the lead actor of McQueen’s first two feature films, Hunger and Shame – joins cast 11 . He is joined in early 2012 by the rest of the cast: Brad Pitt 12 , Paul Dano 13 , Benedict Cumberbatch 14 ,Sarah Paulson and Paul Giamatti 15 .


With a budget of $ 20 million 1 , filming began at the end of June 2012 in New Orleans 16 and lasted seven weeks to end on August 13, 2012 17 . In order to reduce production costs, the majority of filming took place in the greater New Orleans area – mainly in the Red River parish , in the north of the state of Louisiana , near where true Solomon Northup was a slave 18 . Four Antebellum plantations were used for the film: Felicity, Magnolia, Bocage and Destrehan , Magnolia ( Natchitoches) being the closest to where Northup actually worked 19 , 20 . Filming also took place at the Columns Hotel and Mrs. John’s Legacy, in the old French square of New Orleans 21 .

The cinematographer , Sean Bobbitt , the cameraman main film 22 , turned 12 Years a Slave in 35mm format with a resolution of 2.35: 1 with two cameras Arricam : LT and ST. According to Bobbitt, this image format is particularly suitable for period films, while the widescreen 2.35 symbolizes the epic nature of the subject: “Big screen means a great movie, an epic – in this case , an epic tale about human endurance 23 . “The director chose not to use a visual style that would be too desaturated recalled the aesthetics of a documentary film 24 . McQueen came close to the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya’s style , explaining that “Goya has painted horrible paintings depicting violence and torture, but they are still incredible and exquisite works. One of the reasons they are so beautiful is because he says, “Look at this! ” 25 , 26 .

To describe more precisely the time of the film, McQueen and his team researched the art of the xix th century . With eight weeks to create the costumes, Patricia Norris collaborated with Western Costume ( which provides key Californian studios) to illustrate the passage of time and historical accuracy desired by the director. Using a color palette close to the earth’s, Norris has created more than 1,000 costumes for film 27 . She also used clothes who really belonged to slaves 28 .

Movie Music

The soundtrack was composed by Hans Zimmer , with songs written and arranged by violins and Nicholas Britell played by Tim Fain 29 . It also contains a few pieces of classical Western ( String Trio in B flat major, D. 471 by Franz Schubert ) and American folk ( Run Nigger Run by John and Alan Lomax ) 30 .

An album, 12 Years a Slave: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture , is published by Columbia Records onin digital download and November 11 in physical format 31 . In addition to Zimmer’s music, the album also contains pieces by artists such as John Legend , Alicia Keys , Chris Cornell and Alabama Shakes 32 .


2013 : 12 Years to Slave: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture

Titles not available on the original soundtrack



The film is screened in North America for the first time during the Telluride Film Festival on33 , then 6 September at the Toronto International Film Festival 34 , 8 October at the New York 35 Film Festival and 19 October at the Philadelphia Film Festival 36 .

The , Summit Entertainment has ensured the distribution of 12 Years a Slave in the international market 37 . In the United States, the film is distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures 38 . The film is released in theaters onin the United States for a limited release in nineteen cinemas 39 , before a wider broadcast in 123 theaters the following week and then in more than 1,400 cinemas as of November 8, 40 , 41 .


Due to the explicit subject of the film and its obvious potential in terms of film awards , the commercial success of the film has been closely watched. Many analysts have compared the film with other epic dramas of a similar vein, such as The Schindler’s List ( Schindler’s List , 1993) or The Passion of the Christ ( The Passion of the Christ , 2004) that have become successful at the box office despite the respective gravity of their subjects 20 , 42 . On Boxoffice Magazine , a journalist explains that”The theme may be difficult, if it is mastered, films can be both hard and become commercial successes” 43 , 44 » . The domestic distribution of the film, provided by Fox Searchlight Pictures (the “subsidiary independent ” of 21st Century Fox ), was first targeted cinemas of Arthouse and public African American 45 ; it was gradually extended to larger audiences, a bit like what the studio did for films like Black Swan or The Descendants 46. The international release was postponed until early 2014 to take advantage of the attention paid to the film during the awards season (December 2013 to March 2014) 47 .

A controversy erupted at the end of December 2013 regarding the choice of the Italian posters of the film, which highlighted the reputation of Brad Pitt (who appears only a few minutes on the two hours of the film), as well as Michael Fassbender (the villain of the film , a white slave), instead of the black hero interpreted by Chiwetel Ejiofor 48 , 49 . Judged racist , the posters had to be removed 50 .

Box office

In the US, the film grossed just under a million dollars the first weekend of its limited release (October 18-20) in the nineteen concerned cinemas 51 . Four weeks later, for its national release in more than 1,100 screens, the film brings in $ 6,675,731 during the weekend of November 8 to 10, 52 .

Country or region Box Office Box office shutdown date Number of weeks
 United States $ 56,671,993 40 , 53 29
 UK $ 33,011,149 40 17
 la France 1,696,935 entries 53 19
 World $ 187,733,202 40

Home Review

In Anglo-Saxon countries

12 Years a Slave received an almost universally positive critical reception both from professionals and from the public, especially for the performances of the actors (notably Chiwetel Ejiofor , Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o ), the realization of Steve McQueen , the script and fidelity to Northup’s autobiographical work. The aggregator critics Rotten Tomatoes reports 97% positive reviews, awarding the film the label ” Certified Fresh ” , after 240 reviews and an average of 9 / 10 . The consensus written by the site is:”Viewing is far from comfortable, but the brutal and uncompromising look that carries 12 Years a Slave on the history of slavery in the United States is brilliant – and surely essential 54 ” 55 . Metacritic shows a score of 97 / 100 from 48 critics, and the label ” universal acclaim ” 56 ; this is one of the top rated movies on site 57 .

According to David Denby of the New Yorker , 12 Years a Slave is “by far the best film ever made about slavery in America ,  ” 58 and he notices the sequence of Solomon’s interminable hanging, swaying for hours. one foot on the other in the mud to fight against asphyxiation while the other slaves go about their business. This scene sums up Northup’s situation during his twelve years of slavery: an infinitely precarious balance to stay upright, to “survive” 59 . Richard Corliss , Time Magazine , in parallel with Nazi Germanywrites that the film shows that racism , not to mention its barbaric inhumanity, is delusionally inefficient. “It seems that the Nazis lost the war on the one hand because the massacre of the Jews required too much personnel and on the other hand because they did not know how to exploit the genius of the Jewish scientists to build weapons more manageable . Film slavers dilute the energy of their slaves by whipping them as if it were some sadistic sport, or, as Epps does, waking them in the middle of the night to make them dance for the cruel pleasure of his wife 60 , 61 . ” On the website HitFix , the film shows the score of” A- “and critical mentions”Powerful drama carried by the bold performance of McQueen and the subtle interpretation of Chiwetel Ejiofor 62 ” , and also greets the performances of Fassbender and Nyong’o, “the revelation of the film” whose game will surely allow him to win a ticket for the Oscars in March 2014 63 . Paul MacInnes of The Guardian , with five stars out of five, writes “painful, visceral and relentless, 12 Years is not just a great movie, it’s a necessary film .  ” 64 , 65 ” . A review of compares the film to the Roots mini-series, adding that besides 12 Years a Slave , ” Roots is Bisounours ” 66 .

In Entertainment Weekly , the journalist salutes a “monument of cruelty and transcendence” and praises Ejiofor’s performance: ” 12 Years a Slave makes us see America’s biggest sin with eyes wide open. It is sometimes difficult to endure but this film has such a humanity and such a grace that every time you tell yourself that you are looking at something essential. It is also the incredible performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor that brings coherence to the film, and allows us to watch it without blinking. He interprets Solomon with such inner strength and power, without ever diminishing the silent nightmare that was the daily life of the ” 68 . Peter Travers awards Rolling Stone four stars to the film and, after having named it best film of the year 2013, adds that it is difficult to put it aside in a corner of his head and forget it: “this we have one is a classic scathing, shiny and frank ” 69 . The New York Times insists that “the genius of 12 Years a Slave lies in its insistence on the banality of evil and on the terror that creeps deep into the souls of these chained bodies, at the terrible and lasting price of their freedom 70 , 71 ” . On Slant Magazine, a reviewer notes that “by using the visual composition that makes his signature and a deafening soundscape, Steve McQueen portrays, with heartbreaking realism, the experience of Northup and the complicated relationship between a slave and his master 72 , 73 . ” For David Simon , the creator of the series The Wire , the film marks the first time in the history of entertainment, albeit motivated by an international contribution (a director and British actors), a work managed to look directly slavery without ever lowering one’s eyes 74 .

The film, however, is not free of negative criticism. The Village Voice , while praising Ejiofor’s interpretation, writes that the film “stays away from any wild feeling that could be dangerous. Even when it depicts the inhuman cruelty of slavers, as is often the case, it does not depart from its aesthetic purity 75 , 76 . ” A journalist from Slate critical scenario himself by explaining that 12 Years a Slave is built as a simple story of a man trying to join his family, unnecessarily stimulating the empathy of the viewer for the protagonist.”Maybe we need a story at the individual level to understand the subject; but anyway, it has a distorting effect on reality. One feels closer to a single hero than millions of victims; if one is forced to imagine oneself reduced to slavery, one wants to imagine himself as Northup, a special man who miraculously escapes from the system that nearly crushed him. ” 77 A concept summed up under the name ” The hero problem ” . The author compares the film to Schindler’s List (1993), and quotes Stanley Kubrick about Steven Spielberg’s film : “you think it’s about ? But it speaks of a success rather, no? The Holocaust is 6 million people being killed. The Schindler List speaks of 600 people who survive . Declaring that 12 Years a Slave is still an important film, he adds that this film does not bring the absolute truth about these “two abominable centuries of American history, [where] the individual was not bigger than the institution. We can support 12 Years A Slave , but do not expect to see 60 Years a Slave soon . As for 200 Years, Millions of Slaves , do not even think about it ” 78 , 79 . In an article published onThe Guardian , the black Canadian writerOrville Lloyd Douglas  (in) explains that he will not go see the film:”I am convinced that these films about the history of the Blacks are created for a public of white liberals to provoke in them the white guilt  (in) ( ” white guilt ” ). Whatever your race, this kind of movie is unlikely to teach you anything that you do not already know 80 , 81 “.

In France

In France, Allociné posts an average of 4.2 stars out of 5 for the thirty critics of the press listed 82 . Many daily give him full marks and first who wrote that the film is a “detailed report and believed the lives of slaves in the cotton fields during the xix th century. Let’s be clear: the experience is traumatic 83 . ” Le Monde mentions Django Unchained for Quentin” fuck history “Tarantino , and Lincoln in Steven” God bless America “Spielberg, both released in 2012 who treated the same theme of slavery in a much more controversial and dystopian mode for the first and to the glory of American democracy for the second, and adds that the film aims to “show the slavery as it first alienates the body of a man, that is to say, as it deprives him of freedom, such as stigmatizes him, such as he humiliates him, such as he in a word desects him from his humanity. Biblical simplicity, if you will, of this project, except that to seek well in the history of the cinema no film does not really lead it to good so much it is radical 84 . ” A parallel with the” misunderstood ” Black Venus of84 .

Studio Ciné Live regrets the “classic short on legs” of 12 Years a Slave , and adds that “Steve McQueen, director hitherto intransigent author formidable Hunger and Shame , radical films almost made not to please, was rounded at the corners ” 85 . The site Critikat writes that “despite a subterranean lyrism a threatening hair […], one feels a very noble anger – noble because contained by the intelligence – in this way that the filmmaker to remain imperturbable to his grueling recovery the Styx 86 . ” In Télérama, the author dwells on the treatment of the characters, and explains that “the film weakens, moreover, when it dwells on silhouettes to the simpleton psychology: saint Brad Pitt, miraculous archangel who frees the hero, or Paul Dano, young demon without shades, who drives him ” , while ” it is to his favorite comedian, Michael Fassbender, that the filmmaker reserves the most careful, the most ambiguous, the most evil role. […] He transforms it into a complex nest, a lightning rod of frustration, […] a being afraid of not living up to a social class he despises ” 87 .

The Cahiers du Cinéma and Le Nouvel Observateur, however, regret the conformism and complacency of the film, as well as the ” easy manicheism of the worst Oscars machines” 88 , 89 . So Film agrees with Slate’s view that McQueen chose a story in which slavery lasted twelve years, while it lasted a lifetime for most other slaves. The journalist describes the interpretation of Fassbender “often grotesque” , then qu’Ejiofor “did his best to put the greatness of soul in his eyes moist 90 . ”


Since its presentation at festivals in Telluride and New York , and its projection to the public during the Toronto Film Festival , the film received many awards 91 , 92 . In particular, they praised Steve McQueen’s unofficial performance 93 , 94 , 95 and especially the performances of lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor , and the two supporting roles performed by Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o – all three received Golden Globes nomination andScreen Actors Guild Awards 9 , 96 , 97 . The film was nominated for several awards for the best distribution 98 , and, from a technical point of view, the story of John Ridley , the photography , the editing and music were also rewarded.

The film as a whole has also been nominated and won many awards. In particular, he is ranked in the top 10 best films of the year by the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review , awards given to producers of the film, Brad Pitt , Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Pohlad Bill, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan and Anthony Katagas 99 , 100 and he appears in almost all of the awards ceremonies of the 2013 – 2014 season . It is among the favorites of the race film Oscar , the 86 th ceremonyclosed the season in March 2014 101 , 102 .

After receiving the People’s Choice Award at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival 103 , he won the Best Picture Award from most of the US 104 Critics ‘ Associations , as well as the Golden Globe for Best Drama and the Critics’ Choice Movie Award. of the best movie . The British Academy Film Award for best film was awarded in February 2014 , while Chiwetel Ejioforreceived BAFTA for best actor . On March 2, 2014 , the feature film received the Oscar for best film 105 as well as theOscar for best actress in a supporting role awarded to Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o .


Director’s Style

Director Steve McQueen is originally a contemporary artist . Several commentators have noted the influence of his artistic past in the film. The British Film Institute writes in its review that “although it is not exactly ostentatious, McQueen tends to stay in the decadent register , decorating his films with the kind of embellishments one would expect from an artist accustomed to standards of modern art . His style is deliberately high; each image has been precisely calibrated, cut to match the consonantal aesthetics 106 , 107 .The director, however, seems to assume a staging realistic 73 . But aesthetics chosen by McQueen was also criticized for “dilute” the hardness of the images and severity of the feelings conveyed by the film 76 .

Historical accuracy

Academic Henry Louis Gates, who specializes in African-American history and culture, was a consultant for the film, along with researcher David Fiske, co-author of Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Twelve Years A Slave Author . The publication of the terrible story of Solomon Northup, Twelve years of slavery , has led to questions about the veracity of his testimony 108 . The day after the first edition was published in 1853, former slave Frederick Douglass comments: “his truth goes beyond fiction 109 , 110 . “For the 1968 edition of the memoirs, historians Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon authenticated the facts mentioned by Northup 111 . Many historians agree that Twelve years of slavery is the most authentic account ever written by a slave 112 .

Screenwriter John Ridley chose to faithfully adapt the book, as well as the footnotes page Eakin and Logsdon to situate the story and make it a modern lighting 108 . If some scenes have been added to Northup’s book adaptation – or if the story has been condensed – for dramatic or modernization reasons, most of the important events and key scenes present in the film, as well as some dialogues (sometimes taken words for words), are directly derived from the memories of the former slave. The film also differs in the treatment of certain aspects described in the book 113 , 114 , 115 .

For example, in his memoirs, Northup ( Chiwetel Ejiofor ) does not explicitly designate his captors, “Hamilton” and “Brown”, since he was drugged; he had no idea then of the identity of the persons who had removed him 113 , 114 , 115 . His first teacher, William Ford (played by Benedict Cumberbatch ), is almost celebrated by Northup in his book: “There was never a more lovable, noble and sincere Christian than William Ford,” explaining that it is his milieu that would have “blinded to the evil inherent to the foundations of the system of slavery” 116. In the film, he is depicted as a hypocrite, preaching sermons to cover the heartbreaking cries of his slave Eliza who has just been separated from his son 113 , 114 , 115 . The scene of the hangingis true, even though Northup actually fought against carpenter John M. Tibeats twice, instead of just one shown in the film. Under a trivial pretext (a story of nails), Tibeats tries to whip Northup, but he defends himself and turns the whip against him. He is then lynched by Tibeats and his friends, but they are arrested by Ford’s foreman, Mr. Chapin. But instead of freeing the slave, he leaves him hanging on the verge of asphyxiation for hours, and forces the other slaves to return to work 113 , 114. And it’s good that Ford releases Northup. The latter describes a second tussle with Tibeats, a day when Ford and Chapin were absent, and where the carpenter chased him with an ax, forcing him to flee and hide in the surrounding swamps. But, unable to survive alone in this hostile environment, he returns to the plantation soon after. Although Ford has forgiven him, he decided to sell his slave to prevent another incident 115 .

His new master, Edwin Epps, was actually even more cruel than the one Michael Fassbender portrayed in the film. During his “dancing moods,” he forced his exhausted slaves to dance in the middle of the night, shouting “dance, niggas, dance!” ” And beat them when they tried to rest. Highly focused on the drink, he loved to chase his slaves in the yard by whipping them for fun, and did indeed pursue Northup armed with a knife. Even if Northup is less explicit in his memoirs, Epps was feeding his slave Patsey ( Lupita Nyong’o ) “lustful intentions”, especially when he was drunk. 113 , 114. Despite his remarkable talents cotton picker, Patsey was one of the most battered slaves of the plantation, mainly because of Epps mistress 115 . Northup wrote that the young slave had become “a slave master with a licentious and a jealous mistress, […] a slave victim to lust and hatred 117 » 115. In Northup’s book, however, Epps’ wife is less caricatural than in the film; he explains that in the absence of her husband, she was even generous with her slaves, offering them food from her own table, and she was sincerely glad of Solomon’s freedom. But his sickly jealousy for Patsey made him lose all sense when she came across her. Mary Epps, as portrayed in the film, regularly hit her face with various objects and encouraged her husband to whip her, especially in the flogging scene at the end of the film, “the most cruel to which I had the misfortune to attend. ” 118writes Northup, whom Epps also forced to deliver the blows. After he lashed it reluctantly more than forty times, Northup dropped the whip, and it was his master who continued his work, blowing with “ten times more force” until she faints 115 .

Moreover, Patsey apparently did not ask Solomon to help him commit suicide explicitly. It is either a choice of the screenwriter and the director to bring additional dramatic tension or a misreading of one of the passages in the book: “Nothing pleased the mistress more than to see Patsey suffer, and more than once, when Epps refused to sell her at her request, she tried to bribe me to kill her secretly, and bury her body in the swamps. Patsey would gladly desired appease his ruthless mind, if it was in his power, but unlike Joseph, she never dared to run away from Master Epps, leaving more than his clothes in his hands 119 “. It seems clear that this is Epps mentioned Northup mistress, and that she would have tried to buy Solomon to kill Patsey 115 . However, he also writes that the young woman had fallen into a depressive state and it can be inferred that, implicitly, death would have put an end to her suffering 113 , 114 .

The character of mistress Shaw is an invention, used by the director to give a voice to Alfre Woodard ; in the book, Master Shaw’s wife is simply mentioned, but Northup does not meet her, and nowhere is it said to be black 120 , 113 , 114 . As for the character played by Brad Pitt , Samuel Bass, so credible as he is (an abolitionistCanadian in the heart of Louisiana), it seems to have really existed and would have helped Northup even more than the film suggests. After meeting him at night for Solomon tells his story, he wrote and sent letters to him and, when they do not receive any reply, he went to New York to hand them in person 115 . The dialogues on slavery between Bass and Epps are almost resumed textually in the movie 121 , 113 , 114 .

Finally, when Northup returns home, a detail is left behind by the film because after twelve years of absence, his daughter Margaret did not recognize 113 , 114 . As noted in the pre-generic notes, Solomon’s captors, Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell, were never found guilty in the charge that followed the publication of the book. Following disagreements relating to courts empowered to judge them, and certain maneuvers of their lawyer, the two men are released and paid before any trial in May 1857 115. The end of life and the death of Northup remain unknown; some sources say he was killed, others that just disappeared, and no tomb bearing his name has never been found 115 .

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