Infamous slavery story hits home - Press-Republican: Local News

Infamous slavery story hits home

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Posted: Saturday, November 9, 2013 2:28 am

Freeborn Adirondacker Solomon Northup is the subject of “Twelve Years A Slave,” screening this weekend at movie theaters in Plattsburgh.

The film, based on Northup’s 1853 autobiography, is directed by Steven McQueen, a British director.

Since its world premiere at the 40th Telluride Film Festival in August, buzz has escalated on this side of the Atlantic about the film, which stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as the black man, who was born free in July 1808 in Minerva.


Northup’s father, Mintus, only received his freedom in New York upon the death of his owner, who relocated from Rhode Island and died Sept. 1, 1797, according to Don Papson, historian and founder/curator of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum at Ausable Chasm.

Northup grew up in the southern Adirondacks and was employed along the Champlain Canal, according to Peter Slocum, also of the association.

In 1841, he lived in Saratoga Springs with his wife, Ann Hampton, and three children — Margaret, Elizabeth and Alonzo.  At the United States Hotel, he was a “hack,” driving carriages; he encouraged enslaved people to escape, Papson said.

Northup also earned money playing the violin and was lured to Washington, D.C., with the promise of lucrative gigs. 

His nefarious bookers drugged him and hooked him to a floor in chains. Sold as “Platt,” he was transported to William Ford’s New Orleans plantation and began a dozen years in bondage.


Though the film is not scheduled for release until January 2014 in the United Kingdom, it has garnered critical acclaim in the United States for its brutal honesty and faithfulness to a narrative written by Northup about his experience.

The cast includes Michael Fassbender (Edwin Epps), Lupita Nyong’o (Patsey), Brad Pitt (Samuel Bass), Alfre Woodard (Mistress Harriet Shaw) and Quvenzhané Wallis (Margaret Northup).

“Twelve Years A Slave” is so hot right now, it’s hard for theaters to obtain it.

“We use a film booker (CMCI) out of Boston,” said Craig Cathers, manager at Cumberland 12 Cinemas.

“We’ve been on a list for sometime. We thought we would get it in the next couple of weeks, but we got it for this week.”

The film screens Saturday and Sunday at the theater on Route 9 in Plattsburgh; audience demand may dictate more screenings.

Regal Cinemas at Champlain Centre mall is also showing “Twelve Years a Slave.”


Cumberland 12 Cinemas partnered with the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association for a special event set for 3 p.m. today.

“They will bring some artifacts from the museum and information,” Cathers said. “Part of the museum is dedicated to the main character, so they will have some information on him.”

From 6 to 6:30 p.m., there will be a panel discussion with association members and movie attendees.

“I think it’s important,” said Jacqueline “Jackie” Madison, association president.

“It tells the history of this area, for one thing, and it provides a perspective on slavery by an individual who was born free and put in a situation he never thought he would be in. 

“And, he was an educated individual, so he could actually see both sides and understand.”


Madison was surprised to learn of the local screening.

“It’s not showing in Vermont to my knowledge. The manager at Cumberland 12 thinks it may end up getting an award, a director’s award, or some of the actors may get awards for it. There’s a lot on the web about it being such a great movie; they wouldn’t be surprised if it did get an Oscar.”

Northup’s book was a 19th-century best-seller, and he lectured on his experience in places that included Mooers and northern Vermont, according to Slocum.

Though Northup’s father is buried in Baker Cemetery in Hudson Falls, it is unknown where his own remains are today, Papson said.

Saturday’s post-screening panelists will include Renee Moore, founder of Solomon Northup Day in Saratoga Springs.

“Recently, it’s nonstop,” she said. “It’s very, very busy. Director Steve McQueen gave us a live-stream message for the July 20 event we did. Lupita Nyong’o attended. 

“We had segments of the film. They weren’t finished editing.”


McQueen and screenwriter, John Ridley, are well paired, in Moore’s estimation.

“Certainly, Britain should know something about slavery. They were colonists. Mr. Ridley lent his expertise because slavery on this continent was unique. It was executed in the most brutal way on this continent. 

“Having the film has brought more attention to everyone — to Northrup’s book, his story, to me, to everybody involved.”

Moore first learned about Northup watching American Playhouse’s 1984 production, “Solomon Northup’s Odyssey” directed by Gordon Parks and starring Avery Brooks as Northup.

“It wasn’t released commercially,” she said. “You could order it.”

During the past 15 years, Solomon Northup Day has served as an interdisciplinary platform for artists, educators, academics, authors and lecturers at multiple venues, including the Saratoga Public Library and Saratoga Arts Center.

“David Fiske, Cliff Brown and others like Don Papson have come to talk about slavery and abolitionist history,” Moore said.

“It entails a lot of things.”

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"Twelve Years A Slave" screens at Cumberland 12 Cinemas, 18 North Bowl Lane, Plattsburgh at 1, 3:45, 6:50 and 9:30 p.m. today and Sunday; and at Regal Cinemas at Champlain Centre mall in Plattsburgh today through at least Thursday at 12:20, 3:35, 6:40 and 9:45 p.m.