After earning kudos at film festivals and front-runner status during the ongoing movie awards season, the harrowing 12 Years a Slave has garnered a fresh accolade: it will be taught in U.S. public schools.
Teaching materials on 12 Years a Slave will be distributed beginning in September through a partnership between the National School Boards Association, New Regency, Penguin Books and the filmmakers behind the searing, Oscar-nominated drama.
Schools will receive the film, the original Solomon Northup memoir that inspired the movie and study guides.
"Since first reading 12 Years a Slave, it has been my dream that this book be taught in schools. I am immensely grateful to Montel Williams and the National School Boards Association for making this dream a reality and for sharing Solomon Northup's story with today's generation," director Steve McQueen said in a statement.
American broadcaster Williams is behind the initiative, following his earlier success with getting the Civil War film Glory distributed to U.S. schools.
"When Hollywood is at its best, the power of the movies can be harnessed into a powerful educational tool," Williams said.
NSBA president David A. Pickler added that the partnership helps "ensure that every public high school student in America has the opportunity to stare the stark realities of slavery in the eye through books and film."
Complex, multifaceted tale
12 Years a Slave recounts the little-known tale of a freeborn, 19th-century African American man kidnapped and sold into slavery before miraculously regaining his freedom.
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup, McQueen's film explores the complex, nuanced nature of slavery and the institutionalized racism that propped up the U.S. slave trade.
Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall, where 12 Years a Slave won the festival's prestigious People's Choice Prize, McQueen said he felt Northup's story is as important as that of Holocaust victim Anne Frank.
"Each turn of the page was a revelation. I live in Amsterdam and Anne Frank is such a big part of that world. This book happened to have been written nearly 100 years before Anne Frank," McQueen said, revealing that his wife — a historian — had first introduced Northup's 1853 memoir to him.
"It had such a grip on me, such a power, that I just had to make this film."