Director Steve McQueen has made a point of saying he doesn’t believe his film, 12 Years a Slave, is about racism — but rather, about surviving difficult circumstances. While that is true, at least here in America, you can’t escape the elephant in the room. You can try but you will fail. In 2013 racism hovers close to the surface, and remains a powder keg. The 1960s weren’t that long ago. Perhaps McQueen does not want the albatross of being a black director defending the black cause, the same way Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t want to be a feminist filmmaker defending the rights of female filmmakers everywhere. They want to be considered artists first. 12 Years a Slave is a true story. The most frightening thing about it is how little McQueen exaggerated what happened, on the record, to Northrup. This piece from the New York Times in 1853 lays it out in horrific detail [spoilers, if you care]: The condition of this colored man during the nine years that he was in the hands of EPPES, was of a character nearly approaching that described by Mrs. STOWE, as the condition of “Uncle Tom” while in that region. During that whole period his hut contained neither a floor, nor a chair, nor a bed, nor a mattress, nor anything for him to lie upon except a board about twelve inches wide, with a block of wood for his pillow, and with a single blanket to cover him, while the walls of his hut did not by any means protect him from the inclemency of the weather. He was sometimes compelled to perform acts revolting to humanity, and outrageous in the highest degree. On one occasion, a coloured girl belonging to EPPES, about 17 years of age, went one Sunday without the permission of her master, to the nearest plantation, about half a mile distant, to visit another colored girl of her acquaintance. She returned in the course of two or three hours, and for that offence she was called up for punishment, which SOLOMON was required to inflict. EPPES compelled him to drive four stakes into the ground at such distances that the hands and ancles of the girl might be tied to them, as she lay with her face upon the ground; and having thus fastened her down, he compelled him while standing by himself, to inflict one hundred lashes upon her bare flesh, she being stripped naked. Having inflicted the hundred blows, SOLOMON refused to proceed any further. EPPES tried to compel him to go on, but he absolutely set him at defiance and refused to murder the girl. EPPES then seized the whip and applied it till he was too weary to continue. Blood flowed from her neck to her feet, and in this condition she was compelled the next day to go in to work as a field hand. She bears the marks still upon her body, although the punishment was inflicted four years ago. When SOLOMON was about to leave, under the care of Mr. NORTHRUP, this girl came from behind her but, unseen by her master, and throwing her arms around the neck of SOLOMON congratulated him on his escape from slavery, and his return to his family, at the same time in language of despair exclaiming, “But, Oh, God! what will become of me?” These statements regarding the condition of SOLOMON while with EPPES, and the punishment and brutal treatment of the colored girls, are taken from SOLOMON himself. It has been stated that the nearest plantation was distant from that of EPPES a half mile, and of course there could be no interference, on the part of neighbors in any punishment however cruel, or however well disposed to interfere they might be. By the laws of Louisiana no man can be punished there for having sold SOLOMON into slavery wrongfully, because more than two years had passed since he was sold; and no recovery can be had for his services, because he was bought without the knowledge that he was a free citizen.