What About That Other '12 Years A Slave' Movie?
Photo Credit: S & A

What About That Other '12 Years A Slave' Movie?


As I wrote in January, with the release this

Friday of the long awaited 12 Years

A Slave, I thought it would be

worth it to remind ourselves of the first filmed version of the book that Steve McQueen’s upcoming drama is based on.

That’s right, 12 Years A Slave is actually the second

film version of Solomon Northrup’s 1853

autobiographical book; the first being the 1984 TV movie, Solomon Northup’s Odyssey, starring Avery

Brooks (Spencer for Hire, A Man Called Hawk, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) in

the role of Northrup.

It was the last film to be directed by the legendary renaissance man (film

director/photographer/composer, and more) Gordon Parks, who passed away in 2006.

It was made for

PBS for their 1980’s film series American

Playhouse, which showcased feature length film versions of important literary

works (Another forgotten terrific film in the series was their

1985 film version of James Baldwin’s

semi-autobiographical novel, Go Tell It

on the Mountain, with Paul Winfield,

Giancarlo Esposito, Rudy Dee, Alfre

Woodward and Ving Rhames in his

first film role).

As I said before about Odyssey, it’s a good film, though

it is somewhat hampered by its obvious budget limitations and rushed production

schedule, shot in three weeks in and around Savannah Georgia.

Parks himself was not completely satisfied with the

finished project and claimed he was pressured to tone down aspects of the film.

He later said about it that, “I can’t say I don’t like the film. I think

it’s a powerful film, but it could have been stronger. But you meet that sort

of crisis on every film; there are some sort of compromises you always have to


The film was released on DVD and is available on Amazon, though it currently lists it as being “temporarily out of stock” and begs

rediscovery. Though I’m surprised that some company hasn’t re-issued it in a restored

version on DVD to capitalize off of McQueen’s film.

Odyssey is also somewhat rather special to me, because I

saw the film many years ago at a public screening with Parks in person, and I

had him autograph one of his books for me; and shortly afterward, I received a

personal letter from him, expressing his appreciation to me. Both of which I

still treasure highly today.

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