12 Years a Slave

Question: In one of the very first scenes set in one of the plantation slave huts, Solomon is struggling to sleep. He is sleeping on the floor squashed amongst many other slaves. During this scene, what looks like a white youngish woman encourages him to touch her. A little earlier we see her sitting on the porch of the slave hut eating alone whilst the slaves are eating. As far as I could tell, she doesn't appear again in the film. Who is she? Does she play a greater role in the book? Was there more of a story here that ended up on the cutting room floor?

Chosen answer: It was a fellow slave. As to whether or not she has a greater role in the book I can't say, but I interpreted the scene to demonstrate how far removed from his former life Solomon had fallen; rutting on the floor in front of everyone else like an animal.


Question: Why did all of the slaves have such beautiful teeth? The elderly woman slave who sang had a perfect set of white teeth. I can't imagine that slave owners took their "property" to the dentist on a regular basis. And how good was the dental work in the mid 1800's anyway?

Chosen answer: Few slaves would have had healthy, straight white teeth or had access to professional dental care, which was not very advanced at that time and it was painful. This is a detail the filmmakers either deliberately chose to ignore or were careless in how they depicted the characters' conditions.


Question: I'm hoping this was addressed in the book. Solomon was allowed to work as a violinist and allowed to keep the money he earned, which he attempted to use as a bribe to get another character to send a letter on his behalf. Solomon was also sent into town on several occasions to purchase supplies. Why didn't he just buy and envelope with his own money and send it at the post office? Couldn't he have said it was a letter from his master once it was sealed? Couldn't he write it in code if he couldn't send it sealed? All he had to say was that Solomon Northup was a guest at the plantation and his wife could have alerted the authorities.

Chosen answer: Here's why, according to Northup in Twelve Years a Slave: "My great object always was to invent means of getting a letter secretly into the post-office, directed to some of my friends or family at the North. The difficulty of such an achievement cannot be comprehended by one unacquainted with the severe restrictions imposed upon me. In the first place, I was deprived of pen, ink, and paper. In the second place, a slave cannot leave his plantation without a pass, nor will a post-master mail a letter for one without written instructions from his owner."



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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.



In the final scene where Solomon was reunited with his family, the doors he entered the room through had Edwardian style leadlight glass. The movie was set about 50 years before this style.