12 Years a Slave (2013) quotes

Director
Steve McQueen.

Cast
Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Michael Kenneth Williams.
Michael Fassbender.

In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

If something rubs you wrongly, I offer you the opportunity to speak on it.
Edwin Epps
[exhales] Well, you ask plainly, so I will tell you plainly. What amused me just then was your concern for my wellbeing in this heat when, quite frankly, the condition of your laborers…
Bass
The condition of my laborers?
Edwin Epps
It is horrid.
Bass
The hell?
Edwin Epps
[chuckles]
It’s all wrong. All wrong, Mr. Epps.
Bass
They ain’t hired help. They’re my property.
Edwin Epps
You say that with pride.
Bass
I say it as fact.
Edwin Epps
If this conversation concerns what is factual and what is not, then it must be said that there is no justice nor righteousness in their slavery. But you do open up an interesting question. What right have you to your niggers, when you come down to the point?
Bass
What right?
Edwin Epps
Mmm
Bass
I bought ’em. I paid for ’em.
Edwin Epps
Well, of course you did, and the law says you have the right to hold a nigger. But begging the law’s pardon, it lies. Suppose they pass a law taking away your liberty, making you a slave. Suppose.
Bass
That ain’t a supposable case.
Edwin Epps
Laws change, Epps. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, a plain and simple fact, that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and black alike.
Bass
You comparing me to a nigger, Bass?
Edwin Epps
I’m only asking, in the eyes of God, what is the difference?
Bass
You might as well ask what the difference is between a white man and a baboon.
Edwin Epps
[chuckles]
I seen one of them critters in Orleans. Know just as much as any nigger I got.
Edwin Epps
Listen, Epps, these niggers are human beings. If they are allowed to climb no higher than brute animals, you and men like you will have to answer for it. There is an ill, Mr. Epps. A fearful ill resting upon this nation. And there will be a day of reckoning yet.
Bass

I don’t want to survive. I want to live.
Solomon Northup

I will not fall into despair! I will keep myself hardy until freedom is opportune!
– Solomon Northup

I say we fight.
Robert
The crew is fairly small. If it were well planned, I believe they could be strong armed.
Solomon Northup
Three can’t stand against a whole crew. The rest here are niggers, born and bred slaves. Niggers ain’t got the stomach for a fight, not a damn one.
Clemens
All I know, we get where we travelling we’ll wish we’d died trying.
Robert
Survival is not about certain death, it is about keeping your head down.
Clemens
Days ago I was with my family, in my home. Now you tell me all is lost. “Tell no one who I really am” if I want to survive. I don’t want to survive, I want to live.
Solomon Northup

[Upon meeting his family again after 12 years] I apologize for my appearance. But I have had a difficult time these past several years.
–¬†Solomon Northup

Yah a slave. Yah a Georgia slave!
Burch
[savagely beats Solomon until his paddle breaks. He switches to a whip and continues]
Are yah a slave?
Burch
No.
Solomon Northup

[Epps has just whipped Patsey within an inch of her life] Thou devil! Sooner or later, somewhere in the course of eternal justice thou shalt answer for this sin!
Solomon Northup
No sin! There is no sin! A man does how he pleases with his property. At the moment, Platt, I am of great pleasure. You be goddamn careful I don’t come to wantin’ to lightenin’ my mood no further.
Edwin Epps

In his own time, the Good Lord will manage them all. The curse of the pharoahs was a poor example of what waits for the plantation class.
– Mistress Shaw

[Having awakened Solomon in the middle of the night, Epps coaxes him outside, puts his arm around him as if consoling a friend, and guides him into the woods] Well, boy. I understand I’ve got a larned nigger that writes letters and tries to get white fellows to mail ’em. Well, Armsby tol’ me today the devil was among my niggers. That I had one that needed close watchin’ or he would run away. When I axed him why, he said you come over to him and waked him up in the middle of the night and wanted him to carry a letter to Marksville. What have yah got to say to that?
Edwin Epps
There is no truth in it.
Solomon Northup
You say.
Edwin Epps
How could I write a letter without ink or paper? There is nobody I want to write to ’cause I hain’t got no friends living as I know of. That Armsby is a lying drunken fellow. You know this, just as you know that I am constant in truth. Now, master, I can see what that Armsby is after, plain enough. Didn’t he want you to hire him for an overseer? That’s it. He wants to make you believe we’re all going to run away and then he thinks you’ll hire an overseer to watch us. He believes you are soft soap. He’s given to such talk. I believe he’s just made this story out of whole cloth, ’cause he wants to get a situation. It’s all a lie, master, you may depend on’t. It’s all a lie.
Solomon Northup
[reveals a pocket knife he’d had pressed against Solomon’s gut the entire time] I’ll be damned… Were he not free and white, Platt. Were he not free and white.
Edwin Epps

I believe Tibeats is skulkin’ about the premises somewhere. He wants you dead, and he will attempt to have you so. It’s no longer safe for you here. And I don’t believe you will remain passive if Tibeats attacks. I have transferred my debt to Edwin Epps. He will take charge of you.
Ford
Master Ford, you must know; I am not a slave.
Solomon Northup
I cannot hear that.
Ford
Before I came to you I was a free man.
Solomon Northup
I am trying to save your life! And… I have a debt to be mindful of. That, now, is to Edwin Epps. He is a hard man. Prides himself on being a “nigger breaker.” But truthfully I could find no others who would have you. You’ve made a reputation of yourself. Whatever your circumstances, you are an exceptional nigger, Platt. I fear no good will come of it.
Ford

[to Eliza] Something to eat and some rest; your children will soon enough be forgotten.
– Mistress Ford

If you want to survive, do and say as little as possible. Tell no one who you really are and tell no one that you can read and write. Unless you want to be a dead nigger.
– Clemens

I did as instructed. If there’s something wrong, it’s wrong with the instructions!
Solomon Northup
You black bastard. You… goddamn… black bastard. Strip your clothes.
Tibeats
[shoving Solomon]
Strip.
Tibeats
I will not.
Solomon Northup

“And that servant which knew his Lord’s will… which knew his Lord’s will and prepared not himself… prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes…” D’ye hear that? “Stripes.” That nigger that don’t take care, that don’t obey his lord – that’s his master – d’ye see? – that ‘ere nigger shall be beaten with many stripes. Now, “many” signifies a great many. Forty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty lashes… that’s Scripture.
– Edwin Epps

You will remove that black bitch from this property, or I’ll take myself back to Cheneyville.
Mistress Epps
Back to the hogs’s trough where I found you? Do not set yourself against Patsy, my dear. Cos I will rid myself of you well before I do away with her.
Edwin Epps

[singing] Nigger run, nigger flew/Nigger tore his shirt in two/Run, run, the pattyroller git you/Run nigger run, well ya better get away. That’s right, like you mean it. Nigger run, run so fast/Stove his head in a hornet’s nest/Run, run, the pattyroller git you/Run nigger, run, well ya bette git away/Run, nigger, run, the pattyroller git you/Run nigger run, well ya better git away/Some folks say a nigger don’t steal/well I caught three in my cornfield/One had a bushel and one had a peck/and one had a rope being hung around his neck/Run nigger run/ the pattyroller git you/Run nigger run, well ya better get away/Hey, Mr. Pattyroller, don’t catch me/Catch that nigger behind that tree!/Run nigger run, the pattyroller get you/Run nigger run, well ya better get away.
– Tibeats

[about Patsey] Damned Queen. Born and bred to the field. A nigger among niggers, and God give ‘er to me. A lesson in the rewards of righteous livin’. All be observant ta that. All!
– Edwin Epps

You see how fit the boy is. Like ripe fruit. He will grow into a fine beast.
Freeman
[makes Randall run and jump in place]
Six hundred, and that’s fair and final.
Freeman