12 Years a Slave (film)

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I will not fall into despair. I will keep myself hardy, till freedom is opportune!
I apologize for my appearance. But I have had a difficult time these past several years.
That nigger that don't take care, that don't obey his lord - that's his master - d'ye see? - that 'ere nigger shall be beaten with many stripes.

12 Years a Slave is a 2013 film about a New York State-born free negro who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery.

Directed by Steve McQueen. Written by John Ridley, based on Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.
The extraordinary true story of Solomon Northup.
  • I will not fall into despair. I will keep myself hardy, till freedom is opportune!
  • [Upon meeting his family again after 12 years] I apologize for my appearance. But I have had a difficult time these past several years.
  • "And that servant which knew his Lord's will... which knew his Lord's will and prepared not himself... prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes..." D'ye hear that? "Stripes." That nigger that don't take care, that don't obey his lord - that's his master - d'ye see? - that 'ere nigger shall be beaten with many stripes. Now, "many" signifies a great many. Forty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty lashes... That's Scripture.

John Tibeats

  • My name is John Tibeats, William Ford's chief carpenter. You will refer to me as Master. Mister Chapin is the overseer on this plantation. He is responsible for all of Ford's property. You too will refer to him as Master. This plantation covers many hundreds of acres, and you will traverse the Texas road between the forest site and the sawmill in double time. Any clever nigger on that path that gets a little light-footed, I will remind him that on one side men and bloodhounds patrol the border and on the other the bayou provides a hard living, with alligators and little to eat or drink that won't kill you. No slave has escaped here with his life. You're here to work niggers, so let's commence.
  • [singing] Run nigger run, run so fast/Stoved his head in a hornets nest/Run nigger run well the pattyroller'll get you/ Run nigger run well you better get away.


  • Clemens: If you want to survive, do and say as little as possible. Tell no one who you really are and tell no one that you can read and write. Unless you want to be a dead nigger.


Birch: Well, my boy, how yah feel now?
Solomon Northup: I am Solomon Northup. I am a free man; a resident of Saratoga, New York. The residence also of my wife and children who are equally free. I have papers. You have no right whatsoever to detain me...
Birch: Yah not any...
Solomon Northup: And I promise you - I promise - upon my liberation I will have satisfaction for this wrong.
Birch: Resolve this. Produce your papers.
[Solomon searches and finds no papers]
Birch: Yah no free man. And yah ain't from Saratoga. Yah from Georgia. Yah ain't a free man. Yah nuthin' but a Georgia runaway. Yah a runaway nigger from Georgia.

Solomon Northup: We need a sympathetic ear. If we have an opportunity to explain our situation...
Clemens: Who in your estimation is that sympathetic ear?
Solomon Northup: The two men I journeyed with. I'm certain they're making inquires at this very moment.
Clemens: I would be just as certain they are counting the money paid for delivering you to this place.
Solomon Northup: They were not kidnappers. They were artists. Fellow performers.
Clemens: You know that? You know for certain who they were?
[Solomon cannot answer]
Clemens: How I reckon the situation: whatever past we had... well, that's done now. The reality to come is us being transported southward. New Orleans if I were to venture. After we arrive, we'll be put to market. Beyond that... Well, once in a slave state I suppose there's only one outcome.

Robert: I say we fight.
Solomon Northup: The crew is fairly small. If it were well planned, I believe they could be strong armed.
Clemens: Three can't stand against a whole crew. The rest here are niggers, born and bred slaves. Niggers ain't got the stomach for a fight, not a damn one.
Robert: All I know, we get where we traveling we'll wish we'd died trying.
Clemens: Survival is not about certain death, it is about keeping your head down.
Solomon Northup: Days ago I was with my family, in my home. Now you tell me all is lost. "Tell no one who I really am" if I want to survive. I don't want to survive, I want to live.

Ford: I believe Tibeats is skulkin' about the premises somewhere. He wants you dead, and he will attempt to have you so. It's no longer safe for you here. And I don't believe you will remain passive if Tibeats attacks. I have transferred my debt to Edwin Epps. He will take charge of you.
Solomon Northup: Master Ford, you must know; I am not a slave.
Ford: I cannot hear that.
Solomon Northup: Before I came to you I was a free man.
Ford: I am trying to save your life! And... I have a debt to be mindful of. That, now, is to Edwin Epps. He is a hard man. Prides himself on being a "nigger breaker." But truthfully I could find no others who would have you. You've made a reputation of yourself. Whatever your circumstances, you are an exceptional nigger, Platt. I fear no good will come of it.

Mary Epps: [about Patsey] You will remove that black bitch from this property, or I'll take myself back to Cheneyville.
Edwin Epps: Back to the hogs's trough where I found you? Do not set yourself against Patsey, my dear. Cos I will rid myself of you well before I do away with her.

Mary Epps: Where you from, Platt?
Solomon Northup: I have told you.
Mary Epps: Tell me again.
Solomon Northup: Washington.
Mary Epps: Who were your Master?
Solomon Northup: Master name of Freeman.
Mary Epps: Was he a learned man?
Solomon Northup: I suppose so.
Mary Epps: He learn you to read?
Solomon Northup: A word here or there, but I have no understanding of the written text.
Mary Epps: Don't trouble yourself with it. Same as the rest, Master bought you to work, that's all. Any more'll earn you a hundred lashes.

Edwin Epps: [about an outbreak of Cotton worm] A plague! It's damn Biblical. Two season God done sent a plague to smite me. I am near ruination. Why, Treach? What I done that God hate me so? Do I not preach His word?
Treach: The whole Bayou sufferin'.
Edwin Epps: I don't care nothin' fer the damn Bayou. I'm sufferin'. [looks at the slaves] It's that Godless lot. They brought this on me. I bring 'em God's word, and heathens they are, they brung me God's scorn.

Solomon Northup: [Solomon awakens Armsby in the middle of the night. He offers him a handful of coins] The proceeds of my fiddling performances. A few picayunes, but all I have in the world. I promise them to you if you will do me the favor I require. But I beg you not to expose me if you cannot grant the request.
Armsby: What do you ask?
Solomon Northup: First, your word, sir.
Armsby: On my honor.
Solomon Northup: It is a simple enough request. I ask only that you deposit a letter in the Marksville post office. And that you keep the action an inviolable secret forever. The details of the letter are of no consequence. Even at that, there would be an imposition of much pain and suffering were it known I was the author. A patron is what I require, sir.
Armsby: Where is the letter now?
Solomon Northup: It is not yet written. I will have it in a day. Two at most, my skill with composition as poor as it is.
Armsby: I will do it. And will accept whatever payment is offered.

Edwin Epps: [Having awakened Solomon in the middle of the night, Epps coaxes him outside, puts his arm around him as if consoling a friend, and guides him into the woods] Well, boy. I understand I've got a larned nigger that writes letters and tries to get white fellows to mail 'em. Well, Armsby tol' me today the devil was among my niggers. That I had one that needed close watchin' or he would run away. When I axed him why, he said you come over to him and waked him up in the middle of the night and wanted him to carry a letter to Marksville. What have yah got to say to that?
Solomon Northup: There is no truth in it.
Edwin Epps: You say.
Solomon Northup: How could I write a letter without ink or paper? There is nobody I want to write to 'cause I hain't got no friends living as I know of. That Armsby is a lying drunken fellow. You know this, just as you know that I am constant in truth. Now, master, I can see what that Armsby is after, plain enough. Didn't he want you to hire him for an overseer? That's it. He wants to make you believe we're all going to run away and then he thinks you'll hire an overseer to watch us. He believes you are soft soap. He's given to such talk. I believe he's just made this story out of whole cloth, 'cause he wants to get a situation. It's all a lie, master, you may depend on't. It's all a lie.
Edwin Epps: [reveals a pocket knife he'd had pressed against Solomon's gut the entire time] Well I'll be damned... Were he not free and white, Platt. Were he not free and white.

Patsey: I went to Massa Shaw's plantation!
Edwin Epps: Ya admit it.
Patsey: Freely. And you know why? [she produces a piece of soap from the pocket of her dress] I got this from Mistress Shaw. Mistress Epps won't even grant me no soap ta clean with. Stink so much I make myself gag. Five hundred pounds 'a cotton day in, day out. More than any man here. And 'fo that I will be clean; that all I ax. Dis here what I went to Shaw's 'fo.
Edwin Epps: You lie...
Patsey: The Lord knows that's all.
Edwin Epps: You lie!
Patsey: And you blind wit yer own covetousness. I don't lie, Massa. If you kill me, I'll stick ta that.
Edwin Epps: I'll learn you to go to Shaw's. Treach, go get some line.

Solomon Northup: [Epps has just whipped Patsey within an inch of her life] Thou devil! Sooner or later, somewhere in the course of eternal justice thou shalt answer for this sin!
Edwin Epps: No sin! There is no sin! A man does how he pleases with his property. At the moment, Platt, I am of great pleasure. You be goddamn careful I don't come to wantin' to lightenin' my mood no further.

Bass: The law says you have the right to hold a nigger, but begging the law's pardon... it lies. Is everything right because the law allows it? Suppose they'd pass a law taking away your liberty and making you a slave?
Edwin Epps: Ha!
Bass: Suppose!
Edwin Epps: That ain't a supposable case.
Bass: Because the law states that your liberties are undeniable? Because society deems it so? Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and black alike.



Quotes about 12 Years a Slave

  • There are so many aspects that often don't [appear in ] depictions of people in those oppressive circumstances. "12 Years a Slave," for example-one thing I missed in that film was some sense of joy, some sense of pleasure, some sense of humanity.
    • 2014 interview in Conversations with Angela Davis Edited by Sharon Lynette Jones (2021)
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