Film goers walked out and cheered for ‘12 Years a Slave’ at the Toronto Film Festival. The film directed by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender received a ten minute standing ovation.
The film adaption of Solomon Northup’s memoir is being compared to Schindler's List and is being praised as a frontrunner for an Oscars Best Picture nomination.
Set in 1841, Northup is a free musician living in Saratoga, New York who is kidnapped by alleged circus owners in Washington D.C. and then sold into slavery in the south, where his name is changed to Platt. He is repeatedly sold to different plantations and Fassbender plays plantation owner Epps.
Some people are critical of the scenes depicting slaves being beaten, tortured and killed. In the beginning of the film Northup is beaten and whipped by kidnappers. In another, Fassbender’s character strings a slave to a post before she is whipped 41 times.
Actor Chiwetel Ejiofer who plays Northup said these scenes were necessary. The Irish Independent quoted his explanation, “Solomon’s story is full of [violence] but also full of beauty and hope and human respect and dignity.” He went on, “With Steve there to guide it, we weren’t afraid to explore all of that, and go to those dark places.”
Fassbender, who had not seen the finished product until the screening at the film festival, told USA Today, “I have a tradition of waiting until the last minute, sort of the premiere with Steve’s stuff.” He continued, “I really feel it’s a masterwork. I just felt so proud to be a part of it.”
The film also stars Alfre Woodard and Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o.
Brad Pitt stars in the film and also worked as a producer. He told the Independent, “Steve was the first to ask why there have not been more films on the US history of slavery. It’s a question it took a Brit to ask.”
McQueen has taken on challenges in his past films. His film Shame was about a sex addict and Hunger, which also starred Fassbender, was about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.