“The fact that it happened in this country…160 years ago. I know who [Holocaust victim] Anne Frank is, but I don’t know who Solomon Northup is: Why?” asked 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen during a Q&A session at L.A.’s Museum of Tolerance last year.
That question led him on a quest to get his Oscar-winning film — which tells the real-life story of a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery — into high-school classrooms around the country. That dream is soon to become a reality, with the help of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), and a partnership that brings together New Regency, Fox Searchlight, and Penguin Books. Television personality Montel Williams is helping fund the project.
Educator copies of 12 Years a Slave (both the film, and the 1853 memoir on which it is based) will soon be available to public high schools in the U.S. These toolkits include a DVD of the film (edited for teen audiences, with a disclaimer and parental-consent forms); a Penguin paperback copy of the book; an accompanying study guide; and a letter from McQueen. After getting the necessary approval to add the film to their curriculum — teachers can go to www.12yearsaslave.com to gain access to the educator’s kit.
“Solomon Northup’s powerful story needs to be shared and remembered for generations to come,” said McQueen in a statement on Thursday. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our youth to learn about the past.”
“This riveting story of injustice and brutality is a potent teaching and learning opportunity,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association. “Telling the story of the evils of slavery to greater numbers of U.S. public high school students will help to ensure that this tragic chapter in our nation’s history is not forgotten.”
McQueen hopes the experience to be more than a history lesson. He wants the lessons to educate students about the scourge of the modern-day slave trade. “Slavery is a worldwide problem and even in the U.S. children are abducted and sold into slavery. This film vividly conveys the evils of slavery. By giving teachers one more tool to start discussions and through education and awareness our kids can dream big about a brighter future for the world.”
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures