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©AP/ Brad Pitt
© AP/ Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt attends premiere for '12 Years a Slave'
By ROB MERRILL, Associated Press

TORONTO (AP) — The upcoming film "12 Years a Slave" is a harrowing look at slavery, but its stars, including Brad Pitt, say it's a subject that needs to be explored more on the big screen.

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Pitt, whose Plan B company produced the film about a free man sold into slavery, was at its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Pitt said he was first drawn to the film because of its British director, Steve McQueen, known for such films as "Hunger" and "Shame."

"We started talking to him about what he most wanted to do next and he asked the question, asked the question that no American asked, why aren't there more films about slavery?" Pitt recalled on Friday night. "And that's what he wanted to do. And that's where it started and that's what led us here tonight."

British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is earning rave reviews for his performance as Solomon Northup, a New York violinist kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.

The film, which is already generating Oscar buzz, is based on Northup's memoirs and unflinchingly depicts the physical and psychological trauma he endured during his dozen years as a slave. Pitt plays Canadian carpenter and abolitionist Samuel Bass, who helps Northup gain his freedom.

"It means everything," said Ejiofor about his personal attachment to the film. "I was shooting a film called 'Half of a Yellow Sun' in Nigeria, we were down in Calabar, and I knew I was traveling over to Louisiana the next day to start on this movie. So on the last day I popped into the slave museum in Calabar ... because I was aware that not only were a lot of people taken out from there in West Africa, but a lot of those ships ended up in New Orleans, into Louisiana, and that I was going to be traveling on that same journey obviously by different means.

"A lot of my family are out in the east of Nigeria, so I felt very connected to it all. And then to get out to Louisiana and spend time on the plantations was an amazing experience to me and to tell such a rich story with an incredible array of people was very powerful."

Alfre Woodard, who makes a brief appearance in the film as Mistress Harriet Shaw, spoke about her pride in playing a small part in bringing the story to life on the big screen.

"This picture is long overdue and it's a gift that Steve McQueen has crafted and brought to us," she said. "I think people are going to be so excited. Yes it's a tough subject because most people don't want to think about slavery, but I think that leaves a void in us individually, personally and collectively."

Some critics have already questioned whether the film is too graphic to find a large audience, but Sarah Paulson, who plays the wife of a plantation owner, was quick to dismiss that argument.

"To not watch something simply because it's painful seems irresponsible to me, and dumb," she said. "I feel like as a culture we so want everything to be watered down so it's easily ingestible, digestible, and that's just not what parts of our story as a nation is, as a country is. I sort of feel like it's important to tell the truth in your art, and this movie is a great truth teller and that may not always be comfortable, but I think it's very necessary."

Actor Michael Fassbender plays the vicious plantation owner married to Paulson. The film marks the third time he's worked with director McQueen ('Hunger,' 'Shame').

"Hopefully it touches people and they sort of walk away and discuss things with each other," he said. "I don't know the answers, but maybe it poses some questions."

"12 Years a Slave" opens around the world in October.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
16Comments
Sep 7, 2013 8:03PM
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Everyone in the world has descended from people that have been treated as slaves at one time or another.  I am sure the Queen of England can trace her roots back to a slave. Slaves were a part of life for thousands of years.  So this story could have been told about any place or time in the world and has been...see Gladiator.  It is only by the sheer volume of people that plague this planet today that slaves are not needed. Well they still have them they just call it minimum wage today but...
Sep 8, 2013 3:23AM
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Hey!  I have an idea.  In our ongoing (for decades and decades) effort to bring people of ALL races together let's make ANOTHER film about the horrors of slavery.  Yeah.......that's the ticket.  Sure to engender positive feelings for (in this case) blacks and make them want to become brothers and sisters with whites in this country and others.

Bullsh1t!!!  Anyone in their right mind, even Brad Pitt, would have to realize at some point that repeatedly reminding the people in this country (whites for guilt purposes, blacks for hate and revenge) only serves to keep something that died over 150 years ago alive, as though it was still present today, and assures that the race wedge will remain in place or even be driven deeper. 

Why do we not see movies showing the positive gains that have been made in race relations over the years?  The answer - because the people that make the movies don't want us to forget and move on.  They want to keep the wedge separating us firmly in place.......a divide and conquer mentality.  Negative reminders of past history serves the purposes of a certain group.  Something like the movies and news reports of another historical horror, the Holocaust.  It's no coincidence that the same group of people make both types of movies.  
Sep 8, 2013 10:21AM
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I'm pretty sure descendants of slavery would not be as hurt and angry as they are today if they didn't have to witness KKK, skinheads and other organizations who stand behind the first amendment still spewing their ridiculousness. 150 years later people still have those dreaded slave names hanging around their necks like a noose for generations to come. My question to any of you is, how is this not disturbing to any human being
Sep 8, 2013 11:45AM
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This movie is no more going to stir up bad feelings than the movie "Pearl Harbor" did.  This is history, my friend.  Are we supposed to hide history???  This was a true story.  Why is it okay to make movies ABOUT  the Civil War like the battles that took place and movies like "Lincoln," but we can't make movies about what they were actually trying to abolish?  I'm sorry, this is nothing but white guilt.  White people want to make slavery go away, because it shows the dark side of white humanity.  If you are embarrassed by what your ancestors did, then I suggest you don't watch the movie, but for those whose ancestors went through trying times like slavery and the holocaust, we welcome movies like these.  What did the movie "Glory" stir up?  What did the series "Roots" stir up?  Nothing but knowledge.  This is history......plain and simple. 
Sep 7, 2013 7:40PM
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We like it watered down? Guess she didn't see The Passion. Or see Braveheart. Heck for that mater has she watched Throne of Swords. As far as posing some questions or being relavant they should have addressed modern day slavery rather than pick at a old wound.
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