Movie Mom

Movie Mom

12 Years a Slave: The Real Story

posted by Nell Minow

Time Magazine has researched the real story behind “12 Years a Slave,” comparing the film to Northrup’s book and found most of it depicted as Northrup described it.  SPOILER ALERT — here are a few of the facts they researched.

Mary Epps injures Patsey in a jealous rage

Ruling: Fiction

Northup does write in his autobiography about Epps’ affection for Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) — and the jealousy aroused in Epp’s wife. However, he never writes anything about Mary (Sarah Paulson) becoming moved to violence or, as the movie shows, hurling a decanter at her face. Patsey did, however, suffer greatly from Epps’ alternative affection and rage, getting both raped and beaten, especially when Edwin was trying to prove to Mary his lack of affection for Patsy.  [NOTE: There is a description in the book about Mrs. Epps throwing things at Patesey]


Northup was forced to whip Patsey  

Ruling: Fact

Patsey leaves the plantation to borrow a bar of soap from a neighbor. Epps did not believe Patsey’s story and compelled Northup to whip her as punishment.

Northup is saved, thanks to a letter written by a kind-hearted carpenter named Bass

Ruling: Fact

Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt) did have a discussion with Epps about slavery as portrayed int he movie, leading Northup to believe he could trust Bass with a letter home. Bass sent the letter and had several nighttime meetings with Northup to report back on the letter’s progress. For a good deal of time, the letter received no response, and Bass even offered to go up to Saratoga himself and tell Northup’s friends about the situation once he could afford to do so. However, Northup’s friends received the letter sooner than that: they make the trip South and save Northup.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment ann

    It did happen in the book. Patsy would be in the yard when out of nowhere a bottle or a piece of wood would be “hurled” at her by Mistress Epps! Read it again. Patsy’s life was truely acursed. RIP Patsy, may the Lord’s mercy finally give you the rest you so longed for.

    • Nell Minow

      Thank you very much for sharing these heartbreaking passages, Ann.

  • ann

    “If she uttered a word in opposition to her master’s will, the lash was resorted to at once, to bring her to subjection; if she was not watchful when about her cabin, or when walking in the yard, a billet of wood, or a broken bottle perhaps, hurled from her mistress’ hand, would smite her unexpectedly in the face. The enslaved victim of lust and hate, Patsey had no comfort of her life.” Chapter XIII of 12 years a Slave via docsouth

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ann

    Your very welcome Nell! I saw the movie last night and it was a visceral experience in the style of T. Malick. I think Ruth Negga’s role as Celeste from Chapter XVIII didn’t make the final cut for the nationwide release which was a shame because it would have given the movie a more epic feel. But Lupita Nyong’o as Patsy and Sarah Paulson as Mistress Epps were electrifying. I wanted more of them both! Excellent directing and editing and faithful to the book..a must see film!

    • Nell Minow

      I’m so glad you found the movie as moving as I did, Ann! Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment So…

    Nell–the error in your article has even pointed out by two commenters. Why have you not edited the original article?

    • Nell Minow

      I can’t edit a quote from another source. But the comment points out the error.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kay


    You can edit the word “fiction” to “fact.”

    • Nell Minow

      Kay, I can’t edit published work that I have quoted. I will make a note in the text.

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