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Still shot from the movie: 12 Years a Slave.

12 Years a Slave

In the mid 1800s, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a free man of color living in the Northern United States. Then he was kidnapped, sold in the South and remained 12 Years a Slave. This movie is based on his true story. Get the movie review and more. »

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Overall: B+
Violence: D
Sexual Content: C-
Language: C
Drugs/Alcohol: C
Run Time: 134
Theater Release: 13 Dec 2013
Video Release: 04 Mar 2014
MPAA Rating: R
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Why Is 12 Years a Slave Rated R?


Enduring physical and psychological torture, it is only Solomon Northup’s determination and undiminished hope of a better life that allows him to survive. With the vast majority of the dialogue coming directly from the book upon which it’s based, this film may be the most unflinching portrayal of slavery yet. Aside from understanding this dark period of American history, Northup’s story also illustrates this man’s ability to still love and care for others while living in the most oppressive of conditions.

Violence: This film portrays slavery and the brutal methods used to abduct people and maintain control over them. Violence, both physical and verbal, is depicted throughout and includes scenes of torture, stabbing, hanging, choking fighting and whipping. A female slave is forced to remove her clothing after which she is tied to a tree and brutally beaten, first by a male slave (who is ordered to beat her) and then, with even more brutality, by her “master.” (We see her from the front with blood splattering from her back when the whip meets her flesh). This, and others lashing, show the victim’s wounds afterward—deep cuts and gashes in their backs. A male slave about to be hung is left hanging from a tree during an entire hot day with his toes barely touching the ground (we hear him gasping for air). A character is stabbed. A woman who has been beaten, raped and abused by a man (her “master”) begs another male slave to kill her. A man (a master) has sex with a female slave (essentially raping her) and slaps her when she appears to pass out during the act (we see their heads and torsos but no nudity). Another scene implies a woman is raped.

Sexual Content: (Some content duplicates what is noted in Violence above.) A man forcibly has intercourse with a female slave (essentially raping her), during which he slaps her when she appears to become unconscious—no nudity is seen during the act. Slaves, male and female, are forced to remove their clothing so they may be inspective by prospective buyers. Another scene shows a group of slaves—men and women—crowed around a washbasin. (In the movie there are four instances of non-sexual nudity depicting breasts, buttocks and genitalia.) A dark scene between an enslaved man and woman shows the woman taking the man’s hand and using it to stimulate herself. Throughout the movie there are moments where it is implied that men have sexual relations with enslaved women.

Language: Frequent racial slurs for African-Americans are used. A sexual reference is heard along with over a dozen other mild obscenities and a variety of derogatory phrases and terms.

Alcohol / Drug Use: Drinking is depicted throughout this movie, typically consumed by white men leading them to further violence. One male character is nearly always intoxicated. A character purchases tobacco.

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About the Reviewer: Rod Gustafson

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