Thursday, November 10, 2011

Twelve Years a Slave Upcoming

Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave is apparently about to be made into a film.  I am very pleased to hear this; Northup's account of being kidnapped and sold into slavery is a great adventure story.  It is also an important document because unlike the vast majority of slave accounts, it was written by a person who had been free, and was well-educated.

This book has been made into a film before: Solomon Northup's Odyssey (1984).  I use it in my American history class; by coincidence, I will be showing parts of it this evening.  I have never been completely pleased with it: the acting quality varies quite dramatically and the sound quality is poor.  Of course, it was shot in three weeks, which for a feature film is astonishing.  On the other hand, it follows the book quite closely.

I shudder to think what might be done with this story in Hollywood's hands today.  Northup was a very devout Christian, and  is careful to distinguish between good masters and bad ones:
Our master's name was William Ford. He resided then in the "Great Pine Woods," in the parish of Avoyelles, situated on the right bank of Red River,in the heart of Louisiana. He is now a Baptist preacher. Throughout the whole parish of Avoyelles, and especially along both shores of Bayou Boeuf, where he is more intimately known, he is accounted by his fellow-citizens as a worthy minister of God. In many northern minds, perhaps, the idea of a man holding his brother man in servitude, and the traffic in human flesh, may seem altogether incompatible with their conceptions of a moral or religious life. From descriptions of such men as Burch and Freeman, and others hereinafter mentioned, they are led to despise and execrate the whole class of slaveholders, indiscriminately. But I was sometime his slave, and had an opportunity of learning well his character and disposition, and it is but simple justice to him when 1 say, in my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford. The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of Slavery. He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection. Looking through the same medium with his fathers before him, he saw things in the same light. Brought np under other circumstances and other influences, his notions would undoubtedly have been different.  Nevertheless, he was a model master, walking uprightly, according to the light of his understanding, and fortunate was the slave who came to his possession. Were all men such as he, Slavery would be deprived of more than half its bitterness.

1 comment:

  1. I'm happy that Twelve Years A Slave has been discovered by the film industry. The Gordon Parks version from the 1980s did not do justice to Northup's story, in my opinion. I hope the new film will do a better job.

    See my "Twelve Years A Slave" Facebook page:

    and, for those who don't FB:

    David Fiske