12 Years a Slave on France 5: discover the story of the real Solomon Northup


Third film and third shock. In 2014, Steve McQueen signed the powerful “12 Years a Slave”, a charge against slavery taken from a real story. Find out who the real Solomon Northup, the character played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, was.

12 Years a Slave : Steve McQueen continues his flawless

When Steve McQueen comes out Hunger in 2008, we understand that we are not facing an average director. His style explodes with this film of crazy power. His formal choices demonstrate an extraordinary vision of staging. He confirms a few years later, with Shame. And then gives us another powerful slap with 12 Years a Slave.

The story takes place in the mid-1800s in the United States, sometime before the historic Civil War. Solomon Northup, a black man in his thirties is lured into a trap. White men have kidnapped him and want to sell him as a slave. He then ends in a cotton plantation and will undergo inhumane treatment for a long time. Steve McQueen puts a strong staging on his subject and questions the sulphurous past of the United States. He does not abandon his great formal flights and, as in his two previous films, manages to put them at the service of sharp political intentions. Without falling into an obscene approach, he keeps a fair distance to give his character the dignity he deserves.

12 Years a Slave © Mars Distribution

We haven’t said it yet, but 12 Years a Slave is based on a true story. Solomon Northup really existed and he wrote his memoirs after his release from the Epps plantation. Everything we see in the film is faithful to the ordeal he endured. So we are not going to go back over it but rather focus on who he was before being kidnapped and, also, after this traumatic experience.

Who was the real Solomon Northup?

Born in 1808, he is the son of Mintus Northup, who was himself a slave. Solomon has a brother, Joseph, and the two are fortunate enough to be able to live in freedom because their mother was a free woman. The law of Partus sequitur ventrem said that children inherited the status of slaves in relation to the mother. Around your twenties, Solomon married Anne Hampton, the woman with whom he would later have three children. In 1841, he was kidnapped and spent years away from his family.

12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave © Mars Distribution

After his release under exceptional conditions, he took advantage of his freedom to try to make pay those who enslaved him. However, a problem prevented him from pursuing his idea: a black man could not file a complaint against a white man in the Washington district. But, some time later, the case took a different turn when it was reopened by a New York State judge. That’s when Merrill and Russell, the two responsible for the kidnapping, are charged. Unfortunately, the prosecution does not succeed …

The end of Solomon’s life is a real mystery. During the second half of the 1850s, it vanished. Traces of his wife and children have been found but the fate of the former slave remains a mystery. There are rumors that he was kidnapped a second time, but there is no proof. It may simply be dead, from some natural cause or from disease.

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