12 Years a Slave (2013)

Screenplay Genre: Biography / Drama / History

Movie Time: 134 min


1. Inciting Incident

Solomon Northup is introduced to Hamilton and Brown, proclaiming themselves as artists working for a circus, have come to town seeking musical talent such as that of Solomon who is an expert in the violin:

Brown: We are on our way thither to rejoin the company having left for a short time to make a small profit from our own exhibitions.

Hamilton: The reason for our inquiry with Mr. Moon …

Brown: Yes. We had just a devil of a time procuring music for our entertainments.Men of true talent seemingly in short supply.

Solomon: Thank you sir …

Brown: If we could persuade you to accompany us as far as Washington … (00:09:44)


2. Lock In (End of Act One)

Solomon, now known as Platt, is now a slave and has been shipped to New Orleans. His current owner, Freeman, looks to sell his new batch of slaves, including Solomon:

Freeman: My sentimentality stretches the length of a coin. Do you want the lot, Mr. Ford, or do you pass on them all?

Ford: I will take the ones Platt and Eliza. (00:31:17)


3. First Culmination (Midpoint)

Solomon, having almost been hung and killed by Tibeats, is saved by Ford. but he cannot protect him for long. Ford transfers Solomon to another slave owner, Epps, as payment for debt. Solomon attempts to reveal to Ford his true identity, in hopes of righting this wrong, but to no avail:

Solomon: (desperate, urgent) Master Ford, you must know; I am not a slave.

Ford: I cannot hear that.

Solomon: Before I cam to you I was a freeman.

Ford: I am trying to save your life! And … I have debt to be mindful of. That, now, is to Edwin Epps. He is a hard man. Prides himself on being a “nigger breaker.” But truthfully I could find no others who would take you. You’ve made a reputation of yourself. Whatever your circumstances, you are an exceptional nigger, Platt. But I fear no good will come out of it. (00:53:31)


4. Main Culmination (End of Act Two)

Armsby, a white man, is working in Epps’ cotton fields in order to earn money and go back home. Solomon, believing Armsby as trustworthy, offers his savings in exchange for him to mail a letter for him. Armsby agrees but quickly turns on Solomon, telling Epps of the situation. Epps confronts Solomon, but Solomon convinces him that it is a lie, at the same time shutting his hopes for freedom:

Having found a lonely spot, Solomon has stuck a small fire. He has in his hand his letter. With no ceremony, he casts the letter upon the flames and watches it burn. And with it, at this time, seems all chance of him ever being free. He stands and looks at it as if forever, as ashes descend into the night sky. (01:37:15)


5. Third Act Twist

Bass, hired to build a structure on Epps farm, strikes a conversation with Solomon. At first hesitant, Solomon finds trust in Bass, telling him his story, even with the previous experience. Bass is empathetic of Solomon’s story and:

Bass: I will write your letter sir, for if I could bring freedom to you, it will be more than a pleasure. It will be a duty. (01:58:06)