Posted on Tuesday, October 25th, 2011 by Russ Fischer
Here’s an update to the developing news on Steve McQueen‘s third film, Twelve Years a Slave, that is pretty minor in terms of word count, but potentially huge for the movie. We know that Chiwetel Ejiofor will play Solomon Northrup, a free black man kidnapped in Washington in 1841 and made to serve as a slave for over a decade. Michael Fassbender, who featured in McQueen’s last two films, Hunger and Shame, will also play a role.
Brad Pitt‘s company Plan B is producing the film, and now the actor will take a role in the movie, too.
Screen Daily has the news, but doesn’t give any real details. There is no role — we also don’t know what role Michael Fassbender will play.
The film will be based on Solomon Northrup’s autobiography, with a script by John Ridley (Red Tails) and McQueen. The men that kidnap Northrup, Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton, are a pair of white men who encounter Northrup in Saratoga Springs, NY. Those seem like the most likely roles for Fassbender and Pitt. In fact, I deeply hope that is what we’ll see; Pitt and Fassbender would be perfect to play the men who are essentially the villains of the film, as they could give them some depth of character beyond the superficial vision of mustache-twirling evil.
Here’s a long recap of Northrup’s story. It’ll lay the whole thing out for you, but also help communicate how this could be a very powerful film.
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In 1841, while working in Saratoga Springs, New York, Solomon met two white men named Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton. The men overheard Solomon playing his violin and approached him claiming to work for a traveling circus. They proceeded to offer Northup a job providing musical entertainment for the circus at the rate of $1 a day and $3 for each performance. The two men informed him that they would need to travel to Washington D.C., where the circus currently was located but that they would then be traveling back north. Believing he would only be away from home for a short period of time, Solomon did not notify his family that he was leaving. Little did he know that this trip would mark the beginning of the twelve longest years of his life.
Even though Solomon was a free black man, Washington D.C. in 1841 was a place where slavery was legal. Free blacks traveling through areas where slavery was legal needed to furnish papers certifying their free status or face the possibility of being accused of being a runaway slave. Thus, before Solomon and his new companions left the state to begin their trip to Washington D.C., he secured papers declaring his status as a free black citizen of New York. Unfortunately, these papers would not be able to protect Solomon once he reached the nation’s capital.
The three men arrived in Washington in April of 1841. Upon meeting with the other employees of the circus, Brown and Hamilton announced they would remain in the city one more day to pay their respects to the President of the United States, William Henry Harrison, who had just passed away by attending his funeral procession through the streets of the city. Solomon stayed in a hotel room in the back of Gadsby’s Hotel, which was the only place in the establishment where blacks were allowed to stay. After watching the funeral procession for the President, the three men spent the rest of the afternoon at a saloon. It was here that Solomon, never knowing through the rest of his life if he was poisoned or not, became violently ill. He returned to his hotel room with a blinding headache only to be awakened in the middle of the night by the promises he was being taken for medicine. He was so ill that for a period of days he was in and out of consciousness. When he finally did awake, Solomon Northup, a free black man found himself alone in the darkness of a basement in chains. In the course of his sickness, he had been robbed of his documents, money, and ultimately his freedom. Over the next few days it became clear to him that he was being held in a slave pen owned by a man named James H. Burch.