’12 Years a Slave’ Featurette & Early Reviews – An Awards Contender on the Horizon?

Published 2 years ago by , Updated September 4th, 2013 at 12:07 pm,

A pair of pre-awards season 2013 film releases, in the shapes of Brian Helgeland’s Jackie Robinson biopic 42 and Lee Daniels’ The Butler (inspired by the life of former White House butler Eugene Allen), have drawn from real-life stories in order to examine the black American experience during the 20th century, but Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (arriving this fall) goes back further in time to some 20 years before the U.S. Civil War began. 12 Years a Slave has started to amass rave reviews following its premiere at the 2013 Telluride Film Festival, with select critics indicating that McQueen’s film is all but an Oscar nominee shoo-in.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity) stars in McQueen’s film as the real-life historical figure Solomon Northup, a free black man and professional violinist who lived with his family in New York until the year 1841, when he was abducted and forced to work as a slave in the South for more than a decade thereafter (title spoiler: 12 years, to be exact). 12 Years a Slave is McQueen’s third full-length feature as director and his third collaboration with actor Michael Fassbender, who previously headlined McQueen’s Irish hunger strike drama Hunger and sex addiction flick Shame.

The above 12 Years a Slave featurette walks you through the basics of Solomon’s harrowing journey, from the nightmare of having to wake up in chains one morning – a day after he was dining and drinking fine wine at a high-end restaurant – to him navigating the dangerous world of slave labor in the mid-1800s U.S. Ejiofor’s performance and McQueen’s direction seem to be the real highlights of the film, judging by the footage included here, in addition to the powerful material featured in the official trailer. Then again, if you’re seen either of McQueen’s previous movies, then you already know that tour de force acting and refined filmmaking are his trademarks as a director.

 12 Years a Slave Featurette & Early Reviews   An Awards Contender on the Horizon?

Early word of mouth from the critics who saw 12 Years a Slave at Telluride is that the film also illustrates how far McQueen has come as a director, after releasing three motion pictures over the past five years. Aesthetically, the director is known for being a formalist, but 12 Years is described as being more expressive than his past films, in terms of shot choices, editing, and so forth. As the logic goes, that quality makes the slave drama not only thrive as an arthouse experience, but may let it appeal more to the film buffs who found the relentlessly heavy and dreary style of Shame to be off-putting and pretentious:


The first thing fans of McQueen’s “Hunger” and “Shame” will notice here is the degree to which the helmer’s austere formal technique has evolved — to the extent that one would almost swear he’d snuck off and made three or four films in the interim. Composition, sound design and story all cut together beautifully, and yet, there’s no question that “12 Years a Slave” remains an art film, especially as the provocative director forces audiences to confront concepts and scenes that could conceivably transform their worldview.


Based on Northup’s 1853 bestseller, “12 Years a Slave” owes much to Ejiofor’s knockout performance. But it’s a particularly noteworthy advancement in McQueen’s already impressive filmography, as it funnels the cerebral formalism of his earlier features (the prison strike drama “Hunger” and the sex addict portrait “Shame”) into a deeply involving survival narrative. As a result, “Slave” injects its topic with remarkable immediacy.

12 Years a Slave boasts quote the impressive acting pedigree, with the list of supporting players including Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness), Paul Giamatti (Saving Mr. Banks), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story: Asylum), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Paul Dano (Looper), Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire) and Scoot McNairy (Killing Them Softly), among others. However, so far it’s Ejiofor’s central performance that is garnering the most acclaim, with Fassbender and relative newcomer Lupita Nyong’o not too far behind:


All of that impeccable composure and noble intent would be for naught were Ejiofor not the one grounding each indignity as Solomon… Ejiofor’s tightly clenched conviction perfectly embodies hope and righteousness against all odds. He gives the best performance of his career to date, and what’s more, he gives “Slave” its bruised, beating heart with every scene.

12 years slave chiwetel ejiofor 12 Years a Slave Featurette & Early Reviews   An Awards Contender on the Horizon?

Meanwhile, the limited criticism leveled towards 12 Years a Slave at this juncture seems to involve the screenplay from John Ridley, as based upon Northup’s original memoir. That doesn’t comes as a huge surprise, given that Ridley’s script work in the past has tended to vary noticeably in quality, ranging from his screen story for David O. Russell’s acclaimed Iraq War film Three Kings to last year’s George Lucas-produced Tuskegee Airmen drama Red Tails (which took a heavy beating from many critics):

The Playlist

Although Ridley sometimes writes his villains’ lines a little more broadly and obviously than needed, the overall mixture of period flavor with contemporary accessibility in the verbiage couldn’t be any better balanced. As for McQueen’s work, advance chatter had some wondering whether he had what it took to make a mainstream entertainment his third time around, but there won’t be much questioning of that after doubters see “12 Years a Slave.”

As you can see, though, the complaints about 12 Years a Slave raised in the first wave of reviews published online are relatively minor (so far). We’ll have to wait and see if the film can maintain that momentum as more critics see it (followed by the general public), but for now it appears safe to assume that McQueen’s feature will be a contender in the awards season on the horizon.


12 Years a Slave begins a limited theatrical release in the U.S. on October 18th, 2013.

Source: Yahoo! Movies

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  1. I believe you mean he was abducted in 1841, not 1941?

    Good article. Looking forward to seeing this film. I first noticed Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance in Serenity. Great actor.

    • *Facepalm*

      Can’t believed I missed that before. Thanks for the catch, it’s been corrected.

  2. This movie looks amazing. Can not wait to see this.

  3. this movie looked dope man gonna be fun popcorn flick just hope Its half half a s good as jango unchained!

    • I really hope this is a joke

      • no joke

        • I’m glad to see the true story of a man being abducted and thrown into slavery for 12 years qualifies as a “popcorn movie.” And this is FAR from Django Unchained. Smfh…

  4. Really looking forward to this one. After all of the summer popcorn blockbusters, I’m ready for something with real emotional weight.

  5. This film look great, cannot wait. Gotta love the last third of the year.

  6. no mention of Fassbender performance?

    • Michael Fassbender was the most praised behind Chewetel, and Lupita N’Yongo got a surprising amount of acclaim also. ScreenRant should have mentioned that

      • Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that Ejiofor’s performance is the only one being praised – went ahead and added a note about Fassbender and N’Yongo, to make that clearer.

  7. Are there any movies about the Africans who captured other Africans and sold them to the slavers? I think it would be an interesting part of history that hasn’t been explored in depth on film. Not that I’m aware of anyway.

    • Ahh yes, that would be interesting. Also I’m not sure if you know but very few people know that a very, very, very small portion of Native Americans owed slaves too. It’s barely or even none at all taught in schools today about that part of history.

      • I third that. I’m starting to get the idea that the general movie public are starting to incorrectly perceive whites as being the only true slave drivers that victimized others years ago. That formula has been done to death. I’m not dismissing it, but things shouldn’t be so one-sided. One of the few movies I’ve seen where non-whites are doing the slave-driving is Apoctolipto, which I really didn’t enjoy. I feel that movies like these, along with others before it in recent years (Amistad, Jango, Butler, etc.), are only doing more harm. They teach current whites self loathing (which they shouldn’t feel because they were uninvolved) and give blacks the message that they shouldn’t move on and that their own racism is “justified.” Yes, slavery is bad and so is discrimination, and we shouldn’t forget them. But in light of all the social and racial unrest we’ve been experiencing, where hate is being flung over issues that either don’t matter anymore or things that we are supposed to move on from, all these damn race movies are probably causing more harm than good. Aren’t we supposed to train ourselves to disregard race in favor of character? Well, that’s going to be hard to accomplish when there’s always something whispering in your ear and saying, “oh yeah? Well YOU did this! Never forget!”
        So yeah, I agree with you. Filmmakers should either make movies that show things from different perspectives or stop doing the same damn thing over and over again. Discrimination transcends just the whites. Move on or think of more creative material for storytelling.
        I might watch 12 Years a Slave, but only if I hear it has a clever message. My apologies for the rant.

        • Do you even know what you’re talking about?

        • This is not an attack on your comment but I would just like to enlighten you. It’s very easy to say forget and move on when you or you’re ancestors were not affected. To say “oh forget about it… It’s over with already” is truly sad. I never see comments about moving on from the holocaust. I personally have watched many films that chronicle the wars our country have fought in, most of them great movies. i never once thought to “get past” that part of american history. These movies aren’t meant to divide. I haven’t seen one post assailing anybody because members of another race were the antagonist of one of these movies on this site or any other. But all I see is an attack that pushes the theory that these movies divide. Give more credit to blacks and whites alike to walk away from this movie as a learning experience that actually happened with nothing to be ashamed about from both sides.

        • I wasn’t aware that films about “dark times in American history” or “overcoming bigotry” were considered left-wing propaganda. Why do you feel the need to change the subject of this film is it to justify your own guilt?

          Now you wonder why the White conservative brand is falling to pieces? Good luck when the country is no longer predominantly white.

    • Actually the West Africans that participated in the trade where threatened to be sent as slaves themselves if they didn’t capture anyone…

      The resistance against slavery was very strong in all those countries but eventually the Europeans prevailed. The interesting fact is that even in Europe slavery wasn’t accepted at first because of religious beliefs (Louis XIII was against it at first but was later convinced). The enslavers had to organize a real propaganda to make this accepted by the general public.

      How do I know this? I come from one of those West African countries…

      There is also a very good book on the subject called “La France et ses esclaves”, unfortunately it’s in french…

  8. Hunger has been in my queue for a while now so I need to hurry up and watch it but I have to admit I really didn’t like Shame at all…
    The film geek in me loved the long tracking shot of Fassbender running down the street in New York but other than that the movie was a bit to dour and dark for my tastes and that’s saying a lot because I love a good dark character study.
    Regardless, 12 Years A Slave is a must see for me. Between the story and actors involved even if this was directed by M. Night Shamhammer I’d be willing to forget about his past efforts and give this a fair shot.

  9. Chitwel is a contender as is fassbender and the lead female. However idk if the film itself has much of a chance. It may get nominated but i doubt it wins

  10. someone shoud write a screenplay about Africans who keep white slaves that could be a unique twist maybe

    • Would be an interesting Twilight Zone episode.

  11. It’s a movie about slavery.

    It would’ve gotten Oscar nominations even if Joel Schumacher directed it.

    That is not me saying this will be a bad film. That is me saying the Academy loves seeing America talk about thesemselves. Hence why “Zero Dark Thirty”, a movie officially released in 2013, snuck into the 2012 Oscars.

    • Themselves*

    • It was released in American film festivals, so officially it was released in 2012. But officially released WIDE in 2013

  12. Saw this movie before. It’s called Roots.

    • It’s nothing like Roots. Sure, both heavily involve slavery and the brutality of it, but the themes, characters, and story are COMPLETELY different.

  13. 42, The Butler and this? Wow, I wonder if we’re going to have more African Americans in one category (Best Actors) for the next Oscar nomination, I don’t recall that has ever happened before, right? (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). That’s something new and it will be great to look forward to!

    • blacks are in fashion which is awesome !!!!!!

  14. Okay,Black Panther your next! ;-)