Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender in "12 Years a Slave"
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave”

Director Steve McQueen talked about his celebrated new film, “12 Years a Slave,” at a press conference on Oct. 7, 2013 during the New York Film Festival. The movie stars British actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor.

I’m a big fan of this actor, although he’s largely unknown in the U.S. You might remember him from “Amistad” or as the lead in the film version of “Kinky Boots.” He also gave a critically acclaimed performance as Othello on stage in London not long ago opposite Ewan McGregor’s Iago.

The cast of “12 Years a Slave” is a who’s who, including Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Quvenzhane Wallis, Paul Dano, and Brad Pitt.

McQueen’s ancestors were slaves in the Caribbean, and he wanted to explore the history of slavery in a different way. As you see from the featurette above, the character here was a free man who was kidnapped into slavery. Unfortunately, that kind of thing still happens today, often with children who are forced into sexual slavery.

The film is based on the harrowing true story of Solomon Northrup, a violinist who was born a free man in New York in 1808. He published a book about his experiences after he was freed and is believed to have died in 1863. I wonder what Northrup would think of his story being turned into a movie. I hope he would be gratified by it.

In the press conference, McQueen very thoughtfully expresses his motivations for making the film. He says that he is here because certain of his ancestors figured out how to survive slavery in any way they could. He talks about the psychological damage of being born into a situation where you’re thought of as “nothing.” “It’s a deep psychological wound … deep!” he says.

Watch the press conference in full in the video below, in which he likens Michael Fassbender to musician Ginger Baker.