First look at Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave reveals the young star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhané Wallis, alongside Chiwetel Ejifor. Dwight Henry, who was Hushpuppie’s father Wink in Beasts, has a prominent role here as Uncle Abram.

Solomon Northup (Chiwtel Ejiofor), an educated black man with a gift for music, lives with his wife and children in Saratoga, New York. One day, when his family is out of town, he is approached by two men claiming to be circus promoters. Solomon agrees to travel with them briefly, playing the fiddle while they perform. But after sharing a drink with the men, he awakens to find he has been drugged and bound and faces a horrifying reality: he is being shipped to the South as a slave. No one listens to Solomon’s claim that he has papers proving his status as a free man. Despairing, he plots his escape, only to be foiled at every turn. He is sold to WILLIAM FORD, a kindly mill owner who appreciates Solomon’s thoughtful nature. But Ford is forced to sell him to a cruel master who subjects him and other slaves to unspeakable brutality.

For years, Solomon nurtures his dreams of returning home. He stashes slips of stolen paper in his fiddle and develops a natural ink with which to write a letter. But when his greatest efforts come to nothing, he realizes just how trapped he is. Even if he could write the letter without being caught, where would he send it? Whom could he trust to deliver it? And will he even survive long enough to be rescued? Refusing to abandon hope, Solomon watches helplessly as those around him succumb to violence, crushing emotional abuse and hopelessness. He realizes that he will have to take incredible risks, and depend on the most unlikely people, if he is ever to regain his freedom and be reunited with his family.

Possibly ready to premiere at next year’s Cannes Festival, the film also features Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael K. William, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Garret Dillahunt, Ruth Negga, Taran Killam, Adepero Oduye and Scoot McNairy.

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  • Mark

    I can’t WAIT for this film. Best cast in years.

    And I’m predicting that Fassbender’s Edwin Epps will not only be terrifying (think Amon Goeth from Schindler’s List), but will also earn him his first nomination.

  • steve50

    Fassbender, Pitt, Woodard and Wallis under McQueen’s uncompromising artistry? I can’t remember when I’ve looked forward to a film more than this.

  • This just made my day. Didn’t realize Wallis was in the cast. Really amazing ensemble McQueen’s assembled.

  • Geremy

    Don’t forget Dwight Henry’s also in this film.

    Francine Maisler assembled this brilliant cast. She’s responsible for casting The Usual Suspects, Milk, Memoirs of a Geisha and at least a dozen other increadible movies. 12 Years a Slave is at the very least going to sweep the ensemble awards for next year.

    McQueen made two of the riskiest films of the last 10 years with Hunger and Shame; and both of them were well worth the risk artisticly speaking. I can’t wait to see what he does with an all-star cast like this as well as an actual budget.

  • geremy, I meant to mention Dwight Henry. Thanks. Will fix that. Right up top.

  • JP

    Wallis will get the Oscar nomination. And probably easily. Haven’t seen the film but I think it’s a very powerful turn and she was lucky that Beasts came in a year in which it seems that Best Actress will be by far the weakest acting category. In a stronger year (2011), the prejudice against an 8-year-old would probably damage her possibilities. This Actress category looks so weird… Wallis is the most viable contender right now and it seems there won’t be that many viable contenders. She won’t win. But who could win? Laura Linney… her performance doesn’t look as an Oscar winner… but she is the most overdue American actress together with Glenn Close and Julianne Moore. Keira Knightley… AK looks divisive and this could hurt her a lot (The Iron Lady was divisive but the film was all about Streep… AK doesn’t look like that and there are many other factors that favored Streep). Mulligan… The character is not an Oscar-winner one. Helen Hunt is a previous winner.

  • Mark

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the first time that a black director has tackled the subject of slavery for the big screen?

    I have a feeling this film will make a lot of people uncomfortable, and I simply can’t wait.

  • DBibby

    I haven’t looked forward to a film this much since 2046. (The film that is, not the year)

  • April

    I am also excited about this film. Top notch actors and a promising director. I can’t wait!

  • Very interesting to see this post now. Wow!

  • Alan D

    ^ Very interesting, indeed. Some prophetic comments there.

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