12 Years a Slave is a 2013 British-American historical drama film, an adaptation of the 1853 autobiography Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for 12 years before his release.
In 1841 Solomon Northup is a free black man living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. He makes his living playing the violin. One day, he is lured into a lucrative touring gig by a pair of white men. After a night out in Washington D.C. with the two men, Northup awakens to find himself chained to the floor. In shock of what has happened, Northup realizes he has been drugged and sold into slavery.
Transported by ship to New Orleans, Northup and other enslaved blacks contract smallpox and some die. In transit, Northup implores a sympathetic sailor to send a letter to his family. The letter arrives safely, but, lacking knowledge of his final destination, Northup’s family is unable to effect his rescue.
Northup’s first owner is William Ford, a cotton planter on a bayou of the Red River, and he subsequently has several other owners during his twelve-year bondage. At times, his carpentry and other skills mean he is treated relatively well, but he also suffers extreme cruelty. On two occasions, he is attacked by a man who is to become his owner, John Tibeats, and finds himself unable to resist retaliating, for which he suffers great reprisals. Later he is sold to Edwin Epps, a notoriously cruel planter, who gives Northup the role of driver, requiring him to oversee the work of fellow slaves and punish them for undesirable behavior.
Never, in almost 12 years, does he reveal his true history to a single slave or owner. Finally he confides his story in Samuel Bass, a white carpenter from Canada. Bass sends a letter to Northup’s wife, who calls on Henry Northup, a white attorney whose family once held and then freed Solomon Northup’s father. Henry Northup contacts New York state officials and the governor appoints him as an agent to travel to Louisiana and free Solomon Northup. He succeeds, and Solomon Northup leaves the plantation. After instigating a court case against the men who sold him into slavery, Northup is reunited with his family in New York.