12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave poster
Directed by Steve McQueen
Produced by Brad Pitt

Dede Gardner
Jeremy Kleiner
Bill Pohlad
Steve McQueen
Arnon Milchan
Anthony Katagas

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor

Michael Fassbender
Benedict Cumberbatch
Paul Dano
Paul Giamatti
Lupita Nyong'o
Sarah Paulson
Brad Pitt
Alfre Woodard

Music by Hans Zimmer
Cinematography Sean Bobbitt
Editing by Joe Walker
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures (US)
Summit Entertainment (International)
Film4/Channel 4/eOne UK (UK)
Release August 30, 2013
(Telluride Film Festival)

October 18, 2013
(United States, limited release)
January 24, 2014
(United Kingdom)

Running time 134 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $20 million
Gross revenue $25,266,137

12 Years a Slave is a 2013 British-American historical drama film based on the 1853 autobiography Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.


In 1841, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free African-American man working as a violinist, who lives with his wife, Anne Hampton, and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. Two men, Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton (Taran Killam), offer him a two-week job as a musician if he will travel to Washington, D.C., with them. Once they get there, they drug Northup and he wakes up in a slave pen owned by James Burch, about to be sold into slavery.

Northup is shipped to New Orleans along with other captured men, a woman, Eliza (Adepero Oduye), and her two children. A slave trader named Freeman (Paul Giamatti) gives Northup the identity of "Platt", a runaway slave from Georgia. Northup and Eliza are ultimately purchased by plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Northup manages to stay on good terms with the benevolent Ford, but Mistress Ford sells Eliza, who cannot get over being separated from her children by Freeman. Northup engineers a waterway for transporting logs swiftly and cost-effectively across a swamp, and Ford presents him with a violin in gratitude. Northup later carves the names of his wife and children (Anne, Margaret, and Alonzo) into the violin.

Ford's Carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano) resents Northup and begins verbally harassing him. The tensions between Tibeats and Northup escalate; Tibeats attacks Northup, and Northup fights back. In retaliation, Tibeats and his friends attempt to lynch Northup. Ford's Overseer Chapin keep them from hanging Northup completely and sends for Ford, but leaves Northup standing on tiptoe while in the noose for many hours. Ford cuts Northup down, but explains that in order to save Northup's life he must be sold to cruel planter Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) to get him away from Tibeats. Northup attempts to reason with Ford, explaining that he is actually a free man. Ford states that he "cannot hear this" and responds "he has a debt to pay" on Northup's purchase price.

Epps believes his right to abuse his slaves is biblically sanctioned. The slaves must pick at least 200 pounds (91 kg) of cotton every day, or be beaten. A young female slave named Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) picks over 500 pounds (230 kg) daily, and is praised lavishly by Epps. He also repeatedly rapes her, and seems to fall in love with her against his better judgement. Epps' wife (Sarah Paulson) is envious of Patsey and frequently humiliates and attacks her. Patsey's only comfort is visiting Mistress Shaw (Alfre Woodard), a former slave elevated to Mistress.

The abuse of Patsey worsens as Epps continues to rape her. Patsey wishes to die and asks Northup to kill her; he refuses. Sometime later, an outbreak of cotton worm befalls Epps' plantation; he decides that the new slaves are the cause, a plague sent by God. He leases them to a neighboring plantation for the season. While there, Northup gains the favor of the plantation's owner, Jurge Turner (Bryan Batt), who allows him to play the fiddle at a neighbor's wedding anniversary celebration, and to keep his earnings.

When Northup returns to Epps, he attempts to use the money to pay a white field hand and former over-seer, Armsby (Garret Dillahunt), to mail a letter to Northup's friends in New York. Armsby agrees to deliver the letter, and accepts all Northup's saved money. Northup is betrayed by Armsby, and Northup is narrowly able to convince Epps that the story of a letter is a lie. Northup tearfully burns the letter, his only hope of freedom.

Northup begins working on the construction of a gazebo with a Canadian laborer named Bass (Brad Pitt). Bass earns Epps' displeasure by expressing his opposition to slavery, by trying to explain to Epps that he could have a little compassion towards those working for him. Epps sees them as his property.

One day, Epps becomes enraged after discovering Patsey missing from his plantation. When she returns, she reveals she was gone to get a bar of soap from Mistress Shaw, having become sick from her own stench as a result of being forbidden soap by Mary Epps. Epps does not believe her and orders her flogged. Encouraged by his wife, Epps forces Northup to flog Patsey to avoid doing it himself. Northup reluctantly obeys, but Epps eventually takes the whip away from Northup, savagely lashing Patsey.

Northup purposely destroys his violin, and while continuing to work on the gazebo, Northup confides his kidnapping to Bass. Once again, Northup asks for help in getting a letter to Saratoga Springs. Bass, risking his life, agrees to send it.

One day, Northup is called over by the local sheriff, who arrives in a carriage with another man. The sheriff asks Northup a series of questions to confirm his answers match the facts of his life in New York. Northup recognizes the sheriff's companion as C. Parker, a shopkeeper he knew in Saratoga. Parker has come to free him, and the two embrace. Though Epps angrily resists and Patsey is distraught, Northup leaves immediately.

After being enslaved for twelve years, Northup is restored to freedom and returned to his family. As he walks into his home, he sees Anne, Alonzo, Margaret and her husband, who present him with his grandson and namesake, Solomon Northup Staunton. Concluding credits recount the inability of Northup and his legal counsel to prosecute Brown, Hamilton and Burch, as well as the publishing of Northup's 1853 slave narrative memoir Twelve Years a Slave and the mystery surrounding details of his death and burial.


  • Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup
  • Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps
  • Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey
  • Sarah Paulson as Mary Epps
  • Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford
  • Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass
  • Paul Dano as John Tibeats
  • Adepero Oduye as Eliza
  • Paul Giamatti as Theophilus Freeman
  • Garret Dillahunt as Armsby
  • Scoot McNairy as Brown
  • Taran Killam as Hamilton
  • Chris Chalk as Clemens Ray
  • Michael K. Williams as Robert
  • Kelsey Scott as Anne Northup
  • Quvenzhané Wallis as Margaret Northup
  • Devyn A. Tyler as Adult Margaret Northup
  • Cameron Zeigler as Alonzo Northup
  • Rob Steinberg as Parker
  • Jay Huguley as Sheriff Villiere
  • Alfre Woodard as Mistress Harriet Shaw
  • Christopher Berry as James Burch
  • Bryan Batt as Judge Turner
  • Bill Camp as Radburn
  • Dwight Henry as Uncle Abram
  • Ruth Negga as Celeste


External links

Brad Pitt films

Happy Feet 2 (2011)  · 12 Years a Slave (2013)  · The Counselor (2013)  · By the Sea (2015)  ·