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‘12 Years a Slave’: the story of a soul, bought and sold

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Late in Steve McQueen’s astonishing “12 Years a Slave,” we get a long, still close-up on Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a formerly free black man in upstate New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1840s American South. What followed were years of unthinkable abuse, backbreaking labor, fading dreams of his unreal-seeming former happy life with his wife and children. That pause in the movie, coming at a time when neither we nor Solomon can bear much more, lets us just look at his face — and Ejiofor, with no sound and little movement, shows us what hopelessness looks like. He’s emptied out, his spirit chipped away; he’s a man who, at the hands of other men, has been nearly destroyed.

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