Fact-Checking '12 Years a Slave'

Chiwetel Ejiofor (right) as Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave (courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

The difficulty of an adapting a book into a film is staying true to the original text. And, of course, those who have read a work prior to seeing the film will go into the movie making mental notes about what the film got right, what it got wrong and what it decided to keep out altogether.

That's exactly what Time magazine has done with the film 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen and adapted for the screen by John Ridley. The movie, which did well at the box office when it opened this past weekend in limited release, is taken from Solomon Northup's autobiographical book Twelve Years a Slave. In the movie, Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Northup, a free man in upstate New York who is kidnapped into slavery. 


Though reading the Time article will spoil the movie's plot for people who haven't seen it yet, for those who have, it's interesting to see what Time rates as "fact," "mostly fact" and "fiction." For instance, in the beginning of the film, Solomon is shown living life as a husband and father of two children who plays the violin for a living. Time notes how this is mostly fact.

Soloman Northup was indeed a free man who played the violin. He had a wife and three children, not two: Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo, who were 10, 8 and 5, respectively, at the time of his kidnapping. Sent to Louisiana, Northup is given the name Platt and is beaten when he protests he is a freeman. As a result of the incident, he hides his true identity for years.

Other facts checked include the treatment of a fellow slave and the killing of another slave in the movie. 

Read more at Time magazine.

Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.

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