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Steve McQueen to direct 12 Years a Slave

British film-maker casts Chiwetel Ejiofor in true story of mixed-race man abducted and forced into bondage in Louisiana

British artist turned film-maker Steve McQueen has cast Chiwetel Ejiofor in the drama 12 Years a Slave, the true-life story of a mixed-race New Yorker who spent more than a decade on a Louisiana cotton plantation after being kidnapped, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Ejiofor will portray Solomon Northup, who in 1841 was lured to Washington (then a southern slave state) with the promise of a well-paid job playing his fiddle in a circus. Northup was then drugged and awoke to find himself in a slave pen – he was not rescued until 1853, after a man he befriended managed to get word to his family – and lived under a number of owners, suffering great hardship. Northup's wife, whom he had left behind in New York, had to go to court to free him.

Northup detailed his experiences in a book, also titled Twelve Years a Slave, which helped historians build a picture of the slave experience at the time. Following his rescue, he became involved in the abolitionist movement and lectured on slavery in the north-east US. The practice was abolished throughout the country in 1865, following the 13th amendment to the US constitution.

McQueen made a splash with his debut film, Hunger, about the Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands. He's reunited with the star of that film, Michael Fassbender, on sex-addiction drama Shame, which is due to premiere at the Venice film festival next month. Ejiofor, the British star of Dirty Pretty Things and Kinky Boots, also portrays a slave in the forthcoming Annette Haywood-Carter drama Savannah.

12 Years a Slave is being produced by Brad Pitt through his Plan B production company. John Ridley, writer of Undercover Brother, has co-written the screenplay with McQueen.


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