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'12 Years a Slave'

Decade: 1840s and '50s Backdrop: The pre-Civil War United States, from the town of Saratoga Springs in upstate New York to the manicured but brutal plantations of the South. Fashion: Tailored shirts, jackets, vests and pants for plantation owners (Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch); refined dresses for their wives; and simple, worn, cast-off garments for the slaves (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o). Language: After being kidnapped and sold into slavery, Ejiofor's character, Solomon Northup, has to mask his intelligence to survive. To avoid being singled out, he suppresses his normally erudite speech. There's more: The production was shot on location at four plantations in Louisiana, often in sweltering summer heat and humidity. (The Times went there with McQueen.)Francois Duhamel / Fox Searchlight
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