Entertainment News

  • 2 March 2014, 12:29

The Forgotten History Behind 12 Years A Slave

The film 12 years a slave is undoubtedly one of the most powerful Oscar contenders.

An unflinching portrayal of slavery adapted from a book written by the film's main character Solomon Northup.

Saratoga Springs is the town where Northup lived before he was kidnapped into slavery in 1841. He walked its streets with his wife and children as a free man.

During his 12 years in slavery, for him, Saratoga Springs came to represent freedom, but the town that meant so much has yet to fully embrace his memory.

We stopped around a dozen people on the streets to ask them if they had heard of Northup - only one had.

Local resident Renee Moore fought for a Solomon Northup day in Saratoga Springs. She says it is vital the town marks his legacy.

"You have to acknowledge your history, good or bad, and then be able to move on from there because as long as you're in denial that this is a common history and this is what has happened you don't move forward," she said.

Much has been made of the film being uncomfortable viewing. Certain scenes are incredibly difficult to watch. Local historian David Fisk says the film may be brutal but the reality was even more so.

"I don't think it was too brutal. Northup's book basically says it was a rare day that a slave didn't get whipped for some reason or another, whether he deserved it or not.

"In the film the scenes that they show are pretty brutal, but they're not continual the way it was according to Northup."

Director Steve McQueen says the focus on the film's violence is unwarranted.

"Most films that you see nowadays that depict violence in the most horrific way, but they are not spoken about in the same way as this. I think the reason being - this actually happened and people somehow do not want to look at this particular time in history.

"The Second World War lasted five years, and there are hundreds and hundreds of films about the Second World War and Holocaust.

"Slavery lasted 400 years and there's less than twenty - we have to address that balance and look at that time in history. Scholars have always said you can understand America when you understand slavery."

McQueen could be on the verge of becoming the first black filmmaker to win an Oscar for best director. The raw power of what he's created leaves little doubt of his worthiness.

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