'12 Years a Slave' Will Become a Part of Public High School Curriculum
Pay attention to the Oscar nominees - Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave is now/soon mandatory viewing in school. Despite reports that a low percentage of the mainstream public has seen most of the Best Picture Academy Award nominees, only one week out from the 86th Oscars this weekend, there is one that will get a boost no matter what. A report from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) says that they've partnered with "New Regency, Penguin Books, and the filmmakers to distribute copies of the acclaimed film, book, and study guide 12 Years a Slave to America's public high schools." Of course Solomon Northup's actual book is included, too. As it should be - considering this is based on a harrowing true story.
While this all seems like one big last minute Oscar marketing push, there's strong backing behind it and if anything this just seems perfectly timed with the Oscars. Plus, I hope it wins anyway, it deserves to take home Best Picture, especially after the Golden Globes and BAFTAs. The initiative, coordinated by Montel Williams, will start to distribute 12 Years a Slave nationwide in September 2014 in concert with the new school year. It is modeled against an initiative Williams launched to distribute the Civil War film Glory to public high schools that ultimately led to The Montel Williams Show. This really does seem like a great idea.
"12 Years a Slave is one of the most impactful films in recent memory, and I am honored to have been able to bring together Fox Searchlight and National School Boards Association to maximize its educational potential. When Hollywood is at its best, the power of the movies can be harnessed into a powerful educational tool. This film uniquely highlights a shameful period in American history, and in doing so will evoke in students a desire to not repeat the evils of the past while inspiring them to dream big of a better and brighter future, and I’m proud to be a part of that," said Williams.
"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," said Steve McQueen, director of 12 Years a Slave.
Read the full press release at nsba.org. Thanks to The Film Stage for the tip. Yes, it's perfectly timed for the Oscars, but awards aside, this is fantastic news for 12 Years. I wrote in my review after seeing the premiere in Telluride: "From Hans Zimmer's beautiful score, to cinematographer Sean Bobbitt's shots, to McQueen's direction and all of the performances within, this film is a grand achievement and should not be missed by anyone. Even if it's challenging to sit through." Now, almost literally, it will be a challenge for high school kids to sit through in history class. NSBA exec states: "Allowing students to see the tragic circumstances and messages conveyed through these works are vital to learning and reflection on our nation's era of slavery."
At this point, I am hoping/expecting that 12 Years a Slave does go on to win Best Picture. Whether it does or doesn't, that's not the point - the good news is that a brutally honest and incredibly captivating film is now being shown in schools. Not only do they get a small taste of our own actual history, but they get to experience a film full of exceptional performances, plus cinematic artistry in all its forms from set design to costumes to direction, and they get introduced to a bevy of talented actors from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson, Adepero Oduye, Fassbender, Scoot McNairy, Michael K. Williams. A big congrats to 12 Years a Slave, a film that has gone from being must see to must see to pass. Read Northup's book here.