Solomon Northup Descendant on Watching '12 Years a Slave': 'It Felt Like It Was Me' (Video)
Watching best picture nominee 12 Years a Slave can be a difficult experience for many viewers, but even more so for descendants of the film's protagonist, Solomon Northup
"It was hard to watch, knowing it was someone who had a hand in creating me," says Leonard Holton Jr., 28, a fourth great-grandson of Northup who lives in Alexandria, Va. "It felt like I was Solomon. It felt like it was me."
Holton gathered with other descendants of Northup's in Washington, D.C., the city where his ancestor was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The family members were among relatives across the United States who posed for photo shoots for The Hollywood Reporter's Oscars issue.
THR features director Jeanie Pyun was tasked with tracking down the descendants. She located Melissa Howell, Northup’s third great-granddaughter, on a tip from a Saratoga, N.Y.-based photographer. Howell contacted fellow descendants Michelle Linzy and Vera Williams, who in turn contacted other family members. In all, THR held three shoots, with the others taking place in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
"I hope that at a point in time it comes that we don't have Black History Month, and we just have American history, because this is all of our history," says Vera Williams, a third great-granddaughter. "It's not just my history. It's not just my family's history. It's the American story. It's a part of our history. Slavery helped to create the infrastructure of this great country that we live in."
Azalea Gilliam, a young fifth great-granddaughter, got in on the action and turned the camera on photographer Wesley Mann.
Washington, D.C.-based descendants of Solomon Northup were photographed on Feb. 11 at The Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington, D.C.
Click here to see video of Northup's West Coast-based descendants, who received a surprise visit from 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, and see video of his New York-based relatives here. Read more about Northup's family and see exclusive photos of them here.