Twelve Years a Slave (2013 film)

Twelve Years a Slave (2013 film) Imagery


When Solomon is first sold into slavery, we see many images of slaves being stripped and forced to bathe themselves in front of one another. In this image, we see the ways that white slavers treated black Americans as second-class citizens, forcing them to live in adverse conditions and to humiliate themselves while performing even the most basic tasks.

Natural world

Throughout the film, we see images of the natural world surrounding the plantations. Lush sunsets, primordial trees, beautiful and reflective bodies of water all serve as backdrops for the atrocities of the plot. By shooting the natural world in such an aesthetic way, McQueen shows the ways that life on the plantation might appear beautiful and charmed, when it is in fact stained by human violence. The natural world—the trees, wildlife, and landscapes—acts as a kind of passive witness to the violence of slavery, a space that will continue to be haunted by its inhumanity.


One of the more insidious and horrible things that Epps makes his slaves do is come and entertain him and his wife in their house at night. He often wakes them up to bring them inside his house, where he forces them to dance for his entertainment. The image of this spectacle highlights Epps' cruelty, his disregard for the needs and humanity of his charges, and his desire simply to use them when he pleases, as a way of exerting his unearned authority.

Solomon's family

The final image of the film is affecting and moving, as we see Solomon reunited with his family after years away. As he weeps in sorrow for the time lost, his family members move towards him and embrace him, an image of the connection and love that has been markedly absent from the imagery of the rest of the film. After so many depictions of violence and cruelty, this moment stands out as an image of the connection and meaning for which Solomon survived those 12 years.