'12 Years a Slave' Director Surprises Solomon Northup's Descendants During Emotional Photo Shoot (Video)
Earlier this month, Steve McQueen surprised some of his biggest fans – the descendants of 12 Years a Slave inspiration Solomon Northup.
As part of The Hollywood Reporter's Oscars issue, we gathered Northup's family for photo shoots in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. McQueen dropped by the L.A. shoot, earning big applause and plenty of hugs.
McQueen's slavery drama, based on Northup's 1853 memoir, is nominated for nine Academy Awards, including best picture. During the photo shoot, many of Northup's decedents said his book was an important part of family discussions growing up, but they credited the film with elevating the story to a whole new level.
"The movie brings the book to life, so that you can actually experience what he had to go through," says Michelle Linzy, a third great-granddaughter. "It allows you to feel, see and hear those things that you can't really see, feel and hear in a book." Milan Linzy, 15, adds, "I was upset because of what happened, but excited that I finally got to see this real thing."
Jamad Varner said he would have liked the film even if it wasn't about his ancestor, adding "I'm glad a movie like this came out. I'm just fortunate enough that it's about my fourth great-grandfather."
Evelyn Jackson, a 3rd great-granddaughter, says she's seen the movie so many times that she feels like star Chiwetel Ejiofor is her grandfather.
"The movie brought out more love than hatred. Even though it's a hard movie to watch and to see, the loving family he had at the end of it all is just heartfelt," she said.
West Coast-based descendants of Northup were photographed by Wesley Mann on Feb. 9 at the Hollywood American Legion Post 43.THR also sat down with his descendants in Washington, D.C. (watch here), and Rochester, N.Y. (watch here). Read more about Northup's family and see exclusive photos of them here.
Tracking down his living descendants fell to THR features director Jeanie Pyun, who 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.