While the film's story — based on the autobiography by Solomon Northup, a free black man from the North who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the antebellum South — is remarkable, perhaps even more astonishing is that the story is so little known. An exclusive new video, embedded above, sheds some light on the historical context and legacy of "12 Years a Slave."
In the video, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., a historical consultant for the film, explains, "Between 1760 and the end of the Civil War, there were 101 books written or dictated by people who once were slaves and then escaped to the North. The only one that addresses the experience of a free man or woman in the North who was kidnapped into slavery in the South and then made it back to freedom in the North is Solomon Northup."
David Fiske, a Northup biographer, adds, "It's very interesting because [Northup's] attention to detail in the book shows just how curious he was and what an intelligent person he was, because he records every little detail that happens to him."
"No man writing in upstate New York could have fabricated this scenario," Gates says.
For more on the legacy of "12 Years a Slave," watch the full video above.