12 Years a Slave (2013)





12 Years a Slave is based on the best-selling memoir of Solomon Northup, a free African American man who was kidnapped from the North into slavery. Like the book, the film focuses on Northup’s experience in slavery from 1841 – 1853, including the relationships he developed with fellow slaves, captors, and allies.

This film was produced in an era when the focus of Hollywood’s interest had shifted from the military aspects of the war toward the longer-term causes, consequences, and individual experiences of the war.

This is one of the most well-regarded Civil War era films. Historians were pleased with its accurate, though brutal, depiction of slavery and racism. The film was also well-received by critics, who gave it a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie and its cast won three academy awards, including Best Supporting Actress and Best Picture.




Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave (New York: Miller, Orton and Mulligan, 1855).

Sterling Bland, Understanding 19th-Century Slave Narratives (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2016).

Spencer Crew, Lonnie Bunch, and Clement Price, Memories of the Enslaved: Voices from the Slave Narratives (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2015).


Stephanie Li, “12 Years a Slave as a Neo-Slave Narrative,” American Literary History 26, no. 2 (Summer 2015).

Jonathan White, “The Enduring Legacy of Patsey,” The Journal of the Civil War Era, March 21, 2017.

“Film Roundtable: 12 Years a Slave,” Civil War History 60, no. 3 (September 2014).

Andrew Urban, “Art as an Ally to Public History: 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained,” The Public Historian 36, no. 1 (February 2014): 81-86.

Film Reviews

“12 Years a Slave Film Review,” Journal of American History 101, no. 1 (June 2014): 357-360.

Alex Hannaford, “12 Years a Slave: The True Story of Solomon Northup,” The Telegraph, June 4, 2016.

Noah Berlatsky, “How 12 Years a Slave Gets History Right: By Getting it Wrong,” The Atlantic, October 28, 2013.

Matt Zoller Seitz, “Don’t Look Away: On the Artistry and Urgency of ‘12 Years a Slave,’” Roger Ebert, November 30, 2013.



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