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12 Years A Slave

Posted on

12 Years a Slave

Current Status:
In Season
134 minutes
Limited Release Date:
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt
Steve McQueen

We gave it an A

In 1841 a free black man from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., named Solomon Northup was kidnapped and sold to a sadistic slave owner in the Deep South. As Northup in Shame director Steve McQueen’s wrenching new movie, Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster) got a small but intense taste of what his real-life character endured. He racked up injuries while picking cotton, cutting sugarcane, and chopping timber — all in brutal 108-degree Louisiana heat. But on the weekends, the actor let loose, even with Michael Fassbender, who plays one of his tormentors. ”New Orleans is a good place to get out of character,” says Ejiofor with a laugh. ”Just race around the city and paint the town red.”

Ejiofor, a British actor of Nigerian descent, regards Northup’s hardship (first recounted in an 1853 memoir) as more than just an American travesty. ”Just before leaving for New Orleans, I was finishing [the upcoming Nigeria-set movie] Half of a Yellow Sun in the south of Nigeria,” he recalls. ”On one of the last days on that film, we were by the slave castle in Calabar, which is where the ships would go, and a lot of Africans from there wound up in Louisiana. Over the next two days I found myself taking that same trip — by air, obviously — and it struck me that these stories are about the black experience. Solomon is part of my people as well.”