12 Years a Slave
In 1841, Solomon Northup, a free man, was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery in the southern United States. For 12 years, he endured barbarism and cruelty at the hands of his masters, who almost killed him. When he was freed, Northup wrote a book about his experience. The film 12 Years a Slave tells his story. The injustice of his experience is laid bare in graphic detail – from the humiliating experience of being sold, to the regular beatings he received from his masters. The legacy of experiences like Northup’s remains controversial today, particularly in the USA.
Much of Northup’s experience was common. Millions of slaves were used on plantations in the southern USA, often doing demanding physical work. But unlike Northup, many slaves were either kidnapped in west Africa and transported in ships to the Americas, or born into the trade as slaves’ descendants. Where is slavery still a problem today? And how should free societies deal with its legacy?
Caribbean nations demand slavery compensation
Former colonies are making demands for Europe to make payments to atone for slavery and its legacy. But is it right, or even possible, to punish present-day nations for crimes of the past?
Shocking report reveals 13,000 slaves in the UK
The new government figures are appalling. Thousands of men, women and children are being abused and exploited throughout the UK. Will the new slavery legislation be enough to stop this?
World marks revolt that helped end slavery
August 23rd was the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. It marks a crucial anniversary in the fight against slavery – but the war is far from over.
Northup was a black man. Although he lived in the northern USA, where slavery had been outlawed, this made him vulnerable. After his kidnapping he pleaded with his captors to let him go, as he was a free man. They simply beat him into submission, telling him repeatedly that he was a slave. Why has skin colour been a source of injustice in the USA, and why is race still a source of tension there?
US celebrates 50 years of civil rights
It is now five decades since President Johnson managed to pass the Civil Rights Act in a bid to end centuries of discrimination against black people. How should we celebrate its legacy?
‘Racist’ flag dispute reopens America’s scars
The Confederate battle flag was the symbol of the pro-slavery states in the American Civil War. Yet it still flies from official buildings today — but not for much longer, perhaps.
Dallas shootings: America race ‘war’ flares
America is reeling after a black militant killed five police on Friday. The deaths follow two more high-profile killings of black men by police. Is ‘civil war’ an irresponsible description?
The film is not for the faint-hearted: Northup and his fellow slaves are regularly beaten and live in fear of their masters. At one point Northup is almost hanged to death after talking back to one of his cruel captors – only to be saved by his more compassionate slave owner. How similar is the narrative of the film to stories of torture and punishment today?
Trials and errors: the trouble with rights
Human rights are at the root of international law and the heart of many a political speech. Yet not everyone agrees on what they are. The concept of rights is a noble one – but does it work?
Raised as a slave, escaped prisoner tells his story
Born in a North Korean prison camp, Shin In Guen was destined to live as a slave. But, despite great suffering, he escaped – the first person ever to do so. Now, a new book tells his story.
Survivors’ anger as Breivik wins rights case
Anders Breivik killed 77 in a terrorist attack. A court has ruled that his human rights have been violated in prison. Should society’s worst criminals enjoy the same rights as everyone else?
The film’s powerful slave owners treat the slaves as they would any other items of their property. One even pits two of his slaves in a fight to the death simply for his own entertainment. Under southern US law, the overwhelming majority of black people were merely assets to be bought and sold at will. How do stories such as Northup’s help to overcome such indefensible injustices?
War reporter killed in brutal Syrian siege
Legendary war correspondent Marie Colvin was killed yesterday in the city of Homs by a Syrian Army shell. Her determination to expose a massacre ended up costing her life.
Elie Wiesel: a great moral voice is silent
The author of Night, an eye-witness account of the Holocaust, has died. His work raises a hard question about how to approach truth: direct testimony or the power of imaginative fiction?
Ruqia Hassan: witness who paid with her life
Are peace and justice brought about by nations? Or is real change more often due to a fearless individual such as the woman who wrote on Facebook about life in Raqqa under the rule of Daesh.
In his native north, Northup was an accomplished violinist who was often hired to perform at exquisite dinner parties. In the film, this educated, sophisticated, artistic man’s talents contrast sharply with the ignorance of his captors. Are the arts a force for good? And how much difference can they make in changing the world for the better?
BBC to make itself heard in more countries
The Director-General of the BBC has outlined plans to change Britain’s national broadcaster, including by reaching some very secretive states. But how much impact can a message have?
Suffragette movie sparks new claims of sexism
For the first time, the story of the suffragettes is told in a feature length film with an all-star cast. It has reignited a century-old debate: direct action, or the art of persuasion?
The sonnet that helped to heal America
Amidst the tears and rage yesterday over the mass shooting in Florida, it was arguably a simple love sonnet read at the country’s top drama awards that did most to tend the nation’s wounds.