'12 Years a Slave' Will Become a Part of Public High School Curriculum

February 24, 2014
Source: NSBA

12 Years a Slave

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 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.

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Good idea, because kids these days have the attention spans of a toddler. While we are at it, lets create movies and animated cartoons that teach kids how to do math, science, history, etc. No but seriously... the book I would hope would be enough. Let kids use those imaginations and build the world in their minds and experience it through books.

backwardsprogress on Feb 24, 2014


The book won't be, I have read it with my students and some have seen the movie and were blown away due to our watering down of the cruelty and realization how they were treated. Black history month about MLK and Rosa Parks are all they ever get.

mooreworthy on Feb 25, 2014


Looking to Hollywood to try and re-create the emotions of the original author or what they are saying is simply the viewpoint of one person. Combine that with the desire to get as much of an emotional response as is possible, you end up losing the truth. History is never as exciting as what we see in Hollywood. Nor truthful. About black history month - I think its kinda ridiculous. I say this as a Romanian growing up in America. We never learned anything about Romania. Except on occasion it was mentioned because it was one of the eastern European countries to overthrow its Communist dictator in 1989 during discussion of the history of Communism. To teach a subject specifically because of race is to be PC is ridiculous. Teach it because it was a really important part of US history. Just like all other parts of US history.

backwardsprogress on Feb 25, 2014


It's not like it was invented "just for the hell of it". There was racial divide that A-sent the nation to war with itself, B-shaped multiple generations, C- contributed to a welfare state, D- continues to breed bigots, E... Show me where Romania fits into the U.S. historically in any way that's even 1/1000th as significant as Slavery/Inequality/Fight for justice/multi generational climb towards a level playing field. Remind me of a time when Romanians were only 3/5ths of a real person.

mwhahahaha27 on Feb 27, 2014


While this movie has historical significance, I am a little perturbed that so much of our modern educational system has been focusing on the white/black dialectic, slavery, gender, sexuality, and "social justice" (a term i hate, and is actually a codecword for something else). The desired effect that our PC establishment is waiting for is the tearing down of the independent white male.

Alex on Feb 24, 2014


Yeah, it's so hard being a white male.

borninatrailer on Feb 25, 2014


Well considering that people whith relatively high academic scores or job experience can be skipped over for being the wrong color (white) due to affirmative action and the media constantly bashing white people for no reason and the prevalence of the "knockout game", i would say that is right.

Alex on Feb 25, 2014


LOL, the "knockout game." Careful, don't let your racist dog whistles about nonexistent issues that have nothing to do with how difficult it is being a white male show! If you think a white male puts you at a disadvantage in this country, you are completely oblivious or your own personal experiences are phenomenally atypical. That you felt the need to bring in the "knockout game" is kind of a tell though.

borninatrailer on Feb 26, 2014


The fact that you think racially motivated physical violence is a "nonexistent issue" is very problematic.

smegma king on Feb 27, 2014


Except I didn't say that. Of course there is racially motivated physical violence. What I said was this "knockout game" as some epidemic of black youth attacking white people is a complete fabrication. An urban legend. A myth. But is fits nicely into someone's prejudice. Which is why it got brought into the picture here, a conversation about the disadvantages or advantages of a certain race, even though it is entirely unrelated.

borninatrailer on Feb 28, 2014


do you serve cheese with that whine?

richard.dean on Feb 26, 2014


Meanwhile a functional alcoholic and college drop-out who couldn't hold down a steady job becomes President for 8 years and is the ethnic of what now?

Bubba on Mar 1, 2014


It is when you are poor and growing up in a mostly miniority neighborhood. What do you know about it? You put all white guys in a box like they were equally privileged at birth. I highly doubt the white kids I know growing up in trailers had it nearly as good as Barack Obama who had enough money to attend private schools his entire life.

John Cool on Feb 27, 2014


"I highly doubt the white kids I know growing up in trailers had it nearly as good as Barack Obama who had enough money to attend private schools his entire life." Interesting example given my screen name isn't a joke but a fact. What you are describing is an advantage due to wealth. Or perhaps circumstance. Of course a person growing up with more money, for example, is going to have a better outcome and more opportunities on average. However, if you believe being a white male in this country isn't an advantage then you are a fool.

borninatrailer on Feb 27, 2014


Well said.

Bubba on Mar 1, 2014


how poor you are or where you grow up as a white male is irrelevant, you can still walk around a store without security following you, you can walk down the street without other people crossing over to avoid you, you're more likely to be given a job than a person of colour with the same credentials, you're more likely to get a mortgage or loan for a business etc, you won't be stopped by cops and searched for drugs as often as a person of colour. Barack Obama has even spoken of examples of where he's walked down the street as a younger man and people sitting in cars have locked their doors as he walked by, that people in the same elevator moved away against the wall to avoid him. White people, white men, have a much easier existence. get over yourself and poor white tears.

Adam Cross on Mar 5, 2014


For most African Americans, their history begins at slavery, no kings and heroes of ancient times like the Anglo Saxons, no William Wallace to speak about, Alexander the Great, game of thrones, Vikings, Spartacus, we have Roots to explain our origins and no heroes that don't include a mic or some inflated ball.

mooreworthy on Feb 25, 2014


If blacks wanted a thorough and true historical expose of the slave trade, why do they leave out the arab traders who facilitated it, or better yet the rival african tribes who were the ones who captured them and sold their brethren into the slave trade. It wasn't whites with lassos and nets running around Africa capturing them, even though they participated in the slave trade with their purchases. A lot of what passes for black "history" today is actually cognitive dissonance.

Alex on Feb 25, 2014


All Blacks haven't forgot, hopefully their time will also come when they hafe to own up for their responsibility every dog has his day right? God will take care of them.

Bubba on Mar 1, 2014


I really really wish I could trace my lineage back to Game of Thrones, especially if I found out I had Targeryn blood in my veins.

mwhahahaha27 on Feb 27, 2014


"12 Years a Slave" was already a part of school curriculum when I grew up. I saw it twice in two different years, two different classes.

Anthony_K_In_LA on Feb 25, 2014


Came here to say this... Was surprised how many people had never heard this story until the Oscar buzz for 12 Years started to build. Still, it's worthy of a retelling for fresh audiences every few years.

mwhahahaha27 on Feb 27, 2014


Wow, such blatant white guilt propaganda. I feel sorry for white americans. Their children are gonna grow up with a massive inferiority complex. Instead of actual equality, black people seem to prefer mental warfare against the whites. Like a bitter fanatic who engages in familial vendetta, the black community is gonna have white people on their knees apologizing for the things they personally did not do. Blacks want not equality, but their turn at being the masters. No wonder you see less whites trying be in sports, etc. I hope we start growing balls again. Liberals are feminizing men.

John Cool on Feb 27, 2014


Still thats not like bieng broken like a wild horse i'm sure. For white people feeling guilty Blaim their ancestry and As for equality I don't think that will ever be achieved in prejudice from day one country what Blacks want is respect and the reckoning everythings good until Blacks want a piece right.

Bubba on Mar 1, 2014


so learning about actual history is "white guilt"? well I guess we shouldn't learn about any history involving white people because holy shit we've done some horrific stuff. The crusades, colonialism, multiple mass genocides, attempted racial and ethnic extinctions (the list goes on). What is it that you would like people to learn about in history class? about all the wonderful things white people have gifted the world with and nothing else, I suppose? so we can erase the suffering of others and glorify ourselves? And white people don't need to apologise for things they haven't done, they need to be made fully aware of the privileges that slave owners and their white ancestors set forth for them, that white people still benefit from today. "Liberals are feminizing men" ... because no liberal, progressive men exist, right? wow you're completely moronic.

Adam Cross on Mar 5, 2014


Yo, John Cool, Americans don't really have a clue about what slavery was like. What would you say if the Germans tried to suppress the Nazi crimes so that their kids wouldn't get an inferiority complex. I'm thinking you wouldn't like that. Just use your head!

reyn8532 on Mar 2, 2014

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