An Escape From Slavery, Now a Movie, Has Long Intrigued Historians

Historians in the News
tags: 12 Years a Slave




LOS ANGELES — In the age of “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” questions about the accuracy of nonfiction films have become routine. With “12 Years a Slave,” based on a memoir published 160 years ago, the answers are anything but routine.

Written by John Ridley and directed by Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave,” a leading contender for honors during the coming movie awards season, tells a story that was summarized in the 33-word title of its underlying material.

Published by Derby & Miller in 1853, the book was called: “Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, From a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana.”

The real Solomon Northup — and years of scholarly research attest to his reality — fought an unsuccessful legal battle against his abductors. But he enjoyed a lasting triumph that began with the sale of some 30,000 copies of his book when it first appeared, and continued with its republication in 1968 by the historian Sue Eakin....




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