12 Years a Slave and the Reality of Modern Slavery

Solomon Northup played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

Fox Searchlight

The extraordinary film 12 Years a Slave immerses audiences around the world in the shameful reality of historical slavery and is driving a wider conversation over how these forms of control and exploitation still happen today. The groundbreaking movie, directed by Polaris Ambassador Steve McQueen, is a powerful tool to raise awareness of the prevalence of modern slavery today in the U.S. and around the world.

12 Years a Slave tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man sold into slavery in the 1840s. Most of us believe that slavery in America disappeared over a century ago and no one currently has to endure what Solomon went through. In the narrative we've learned, the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Thirteenth Amendment ended this horrific chapter in our nation's history. But this narrative is wrong.


Modern slavery may not be as brutal, as visible, or as blatant. But slavery has been with us every day since the late 1800s. And hundreds of thousands of people are victims of human trafficking and modern slavery right here in America. 

Many of the control mechanisms used against Solomon Northup by his captors are the very same tactics employed by human traffickers against the estimated 20.9 million people currently held in modern forms of slavery in the United States and around the world.

Victims of human trafficking have their papers taken, are forced to live packed a dozen to a room, and are kept away from their families for years at a time. They are beaten and threatened, psychologically tortured, and left with permanent mental and physical scars. Read stories from the cases Polaris learns about every day -- cases right here in the United States.

Unlike Solomon, who endured for 12 years before the opportunity arrived that allowed him to escape, today help for victims is literally a phone call or text away.

If you were moved by 12 Years a Slave and you want to join our fight to eradicate modern slavery, there are steps you can take to combat it wherever you are: 

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Film Information

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alfre Woodard, Chris Chalk, Taran Killam and Bill Camp
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Screenplay by: John Ridley


"TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man's fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender), as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) will forever alter his life."  --Fox Searchlight Pictures.

NHTRC-module National Human Trafficking Resource Center Report Human Trafficking Access Trainings Human Trafficking Information & Resources

Client Quotes

"Thanks to Polaris Project, I have a job, a home, and many friends that help me when I need it. I am making a life of my own."


- Survivor of Labor Trafficking & Client of Polaris