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.