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What About That Other ’12 Years A Slave’ Movie?

What About That Other '12 Years A Slave' Movie?

As I wrote in January, with the release this
Friday of the long awaited 12 Years
Slave, I thought it would be
worth it to remind ourselves of the first filmed version of the book that Steve McQueen’s upcoming drama is based on.

That’s right, 12 Years A Slave is actually the second
film version of Solomon Northrup’s 1853
autobiographical book; the first being the 1984 TV movie, Solomon Northup’s Odyssey, starring Avery
Brooks (Spencer for Hire, A Man Called Hawk, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
the role of Northrup.

It was the last film to be directed by the legendary renaissance man (film
director/photographer/composer, and more) Gordon Parks, who passed away in 2006.

It was made for
for their 1980’s film series American
, which showcased feature length film versions of important literary
works (Another forgotten terrific film in the series was their
1985 film version of James Baldwin’s
semi-autobiographical novel, Go Tell It
on the Mountain
, with Paul Winfield,
Esposito, Rudy Dee, Alfre
and Ving Rhames in his
first film role).

As I said before about Odyssey, it’s a good film, though
it is somewhat hampered by its obvious budget limitations and rushed production
schedule, shot in three weeks in and around Savannah Georgia.

Parks himself was not completely satisfied with the
finished project and claimed he was pressured to tone down aspects of the film.
He later said about it that, “I can’t say I don’t like the film. I think
it’s a powerful film, but it could have been stronger. But you meet that sort
of crisis on every film; there are some sort of compromises you always have to

The film was released on DVD and is available on Amazon, though it currently lists it as being “temporarily out of stock” and begs
rediscovery. Though I’m surprised that some company hasn’t re-issued it in a restored
version on DVD to capitalize off of McQueen’s film.

Odyssey is also somewhat rather special to me, because I
saw the film many years ago at a public screening with Parks in person, and I
had him autograph one of his books for me; and shortly afterward, I received a
personal letter from him, expressing his appreciation to me. Both of which I
still treasure highly today.

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D Harris

The Gordon Park's film is available for viewing free through Hoopla. If you have a library card you in all likelihood can access Hoopla films free. It is a different take – and in some ways more realistic about the difficult living conditions for free African Americans. Worth checking out.


Park's version of 12 years….. is available from Netflix.


Interesting. Well, I had not heard of this film until I was standing in line to watch Steve's McQueen's "12 years". A woman standing next to me said she was inspired to see McQueen's because she had seen the other film.

Anyway, in reference to McQueen's version, I believe Tambay's opinion of the film was on par and maybe even a bit too kind. The film, in all honesty, was nothing to write home about. And please, to those who are championing Mr. McQueen as the next great black filmmaker… don't make your move too soon. Hunger was an excellent film, Shame was (in the opinion of many) nothing but soft porn, and this film wasn't anything special.

To that point, now I understand what Tambay was saying that this film may be receiving grand accumulates solely because there's not really any films one can compare it to.

Also, I agree with Tambay that this didn't have a feel of a 12 year journey – not in the least. In fact, if one didn't know the story occurred over a 12 year period, they would not have gathered that information from this movie. This had the feel of a one year journey. But really, that was the least of my concerns with this film.

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