12 Years a Slave
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A Note Regarding Spoilers

The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.

For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for 12 Years a Slave can be found here.

Yes. 12 Years a Slave is based on an 1853 memoir of the same title by Solomon Northup [1808-1863?], born free in New York but kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. He spent the next 12 years working on plantations in Louisiana until his release in 1853. Northup's memoir was adapted for the film by American screenwriter John Ridley. The movie won the 2014 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture. Northup's memoir was also the source for the 1984 made-for-TV movie, American Playhouse: Solomon Northup's Odyssey (#4.3) (1984).

Yes. Solomon began playing the violin during the leisure hours of his youth, after he finished his main duty of helping his father on the farm. In his memoir, he calls the violin "the ruling passion of my youth," going on to say, "It has also been the source of consolation since, affording pleasure to the simple beings with whom my lot was cast, and beguiling my own thoughts, for many hours, from the painful contemplation of my fate."

As he indicated in his autobiography, Solomon Northup is not positive that he was in fact drugged, however, he remembers various clues that led him to that conclusion. He had spent the day with Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell making stops at a number of saloons in Washington, D.C. They were observing the festivities that were part of the great funeral procession of General Harrison. At the saloons, the two men would serve themselves, and they would then pour a glass and hand it to Solomon. As he states in his memoir, he did not become intoxicated. By late afternoon, he fell ill with a severe headache and nausea. His sickness progressed until he was insensible by evening. He was unable to sleep and was stricken with severe thirst. He recalls several people entering the room where he had been staying. They told him that he needed to come with them to see a physician. Shortly after leaving his room and heading into the streets, his memory escapes him and the next thing he remembers is waking up handcuffed and chained to the floor of the Williams Slave Pen in Washington, D.C.

Indeed so. Evidence discovered while researching the true story behind 12 Years a Slave confirmed that Solomon Northup's name was in fact changed to Platt Hamilton. An official record of the name appears on the April 1841 manifest of the brig Orleans, the ship that carried Northup southward from the Port of Richmond, Virginia to the Port of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Yes. In fact, the real Edwin Epps was crueler than actor Michael Fassbender portrays him to be in the movie. In addition to Edwin Epps being overcome by "dancing moods", where he would force the exhausted slaves to dance, in real life, Epps also had his "whipping moods". Epps usually found himself in a "whipping mood" when he was drunk. He would drive the slaves around the yard and whip them for fun.

The letters written by Samuel Bass that were sent to New York eventually caught the attention of New York Whig attorney Henry B. Northup, who was a relative of Solomon's father's former master. Henry was a part of the family that took in Solomon's father Mintus after he was freed. Realising the injustice, Henry made the long journey south to Louisiana and successfully brokered a deal for Solomon's release. After he rescued Solomon, he returned home with him and fought to bring Solomon's kidnappers to justice. Henry was also instrumental in securing a publisher for the memoir that would tell Solomon's story, and in finding the ghost writer, David Wilson, who lived within five miles of Henry's home. Henry hoped that the book would alert the public to his case against Solomon's two kidnappers.

Upon his return home to Saratoga Springs, New York, Northup shared his story and gave interviews to the local press. His story became well known in the North and he started to speak at abolitionist rallies. An 1855 New York State Census confirms that he had indeed returned to his wife Anne, as the two were together again. He also lists himself as a land owner and a carpenter. In the hands of a ghost writer by the name of David Wilson, Northup started to provide input for his book. It was published around the middle of July, 1853, after just three and a half months of research, writing, and interviews by the white ghost writer Wilson, who was himself a prominent New York lawyer and author of two books about local history. Henry Northup, the attorney who helped to free Solomon, also contributed to the production of the book and encouraged its speedy publication in an effort to garner public interest in bringing Northup's kidnappers to trial.

No. With the help of public interest in Northup, partially as the result of his book, attorney Henry Northup set his sights on two men, Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell, who were believed to have played pivotal roles in the kidnapping. The two men were arrested but never convicted. Disagreements over where the case should be tried, New York or the District of Columbia, led to the decision over jurisdiction to be sent to the New York Supreme Court and then to the New York Court of Appeals. This was after three of the four counts against the two men had already been dropped since it was determined that these counts originated in Washington, D.C., not the state of New York. During this time, the men in custody applied for release. Joseph Russell's bail was nominal and Alexander Merrill's bail was set at $800. The New York Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the lower courts, citing that the indictment legally could not be split, with one count being valid while the other three were ruled invalid due to issues over jurisdiction. In May of 1857, the case was discharged and the two men were never brought to trial.

The last known details about Solomon Northup's life are mostly speculative and no one is certain of his exact fate. It is believed that he might have been involved with the Underground Railroad up until the start of the American Civil War. There are also reports of angry mobs disrupting speeches that he gave at abolitionist rallies. This includes speeches that he was giving in Canada in the summer of 1857. Some believe that this could have led to him being murdered, while others have conjectured that it's possible he was kidnapped again, or that his two former kidnappers who had been on trial went looking for Northup and killed him. Certain members of his family have passed down the story that he had been killed in Mississippi in 1864, but there is no evidence to support that claim. An 1875 New York State Census lists his wife Anne's marital status as "Widowed". No grave of Solomon Northup has ever been found.

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