12 Years a Slave (2013)

Written by Yue Jie

Directed by: Steve McQueen
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Running time: 134 minutes
Classification: M18 – Violence And Sexual Scenes
Release date: 19 December 2013
Rating: 4/5

I don’t want to survive. I want to live.

Hardly are there films that touch on the sensitive topic of slavery, especially in America, where the subject is shunned. While there aren’t many films that broach on the topic, those that do tend to do it well. A fine example is Steve McQueen’s latest feature 12 Years a Slave, based on the true story of free black man Solomon Northup in the 19th century.


Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup, a refined black man kidnapped in his hometown and sold into slavery, 12 Years a Slave is a slow and brutal telling of the merciless era in which white people were favored over the blacks and where injustice was common. He also gets his name changed to “Platt” and is forced to conceal his identity as a free man.

Even as literate and educated as Northup is, to survive he has to bow down to the whites and feign ignorance of general knowledge, a behavior that takes a bit of getting used to, and we see the discomfort in Northup as he pushes on with the rest of the blacks. When he attempts to suggest an idea that will improve the living situation of the environment, whether the owners think it is feasible or not, he is put down immediately.


12 Years a Slave showcases a supporting cast of A-list actors Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Michael Fassbender and Brat Pitt, whose respective roles depict the various kinds of white men and their approach to slaves, whether they are sympathetic or downright barbaric.

Cumberbatch stars as plantation owner William Ford, a fairly understanding master who takes in Northup’s duly assistance and rewards him with a violin, an instrument he saw Northup play with flair upon buying him. On the other hand, John Tibeats (Paul Dano) is racist towards blacks, hating on Northup and verbally harassing him, forcing Ford to sell him off to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) in order to protect him from Tibeats.

12 years a slave

At Epps’ plantation is where most of the film’s moments occur, where Northup meets young female slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), gets the attention of Epps’ wife Mary (Sarah Paulson) and pens a letter in a failed attempt to flee. Hope comes in the form of Bass (Brad Pitt), a laborer who opposes slavery. This allows Northup to confide in Bass about his predicament and again requests for help to send a letter for him.

McQueen’s adept ability in his use of imagery to portray loneliness and pity is evident in the fair share of silent moments that are visually resonant and emotionally astounding. He tackles sexual injustice with expertise and a level of maturity. In a period plagued with unfairness and bias, 12 Years a Slave is a brilliant reenactment of an era long gone.


German composer Hans Zimmer complements the overall tonality with a musical score that strikes deep in the core of the film. Filled with strong moments and a quiet resolve, Ejiofor’s unfaltering performance, together with the rest of the supporting cast, makes 12 Years a Slave deservedly worthy of its Oscar contentions.

Check out the trailer below!


About us: SG NEWWAVE is a film club that conducts “film appreciation” sessions and post-screening critiques. These critiques are conducted and documented for educational use only. They are NOT in any way in support of any leisure or profit making activity.

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