The historical biopic “12 Years a Slave” was a hit at the box office and dominated award season, but the story’s latest honor may be the most impactful one yet.
The National School Boards Association is partnering with Penguin Books, New Regency and producers of “12 Years a Slave” to bring the film into classrooms across the nation.
The NSBA is preparing to have copies of the film, the memoir that inspired the film, and even a study guide to accompany the works distributed throughout public high schools.
It will still be up to individual districts to decide whether or not they will include the works in their own curriculums.
“This gives high school teachers a lot of options, so they can decide how they can fit it in with the curricula they’re teaching,” said Tom Gentzel, executive director of the NSBA. “[Slavery] is an important topic, and it’s an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
The film’s director, Steve McQueen, was excited to hear that the book and movie would be welcomed into high schools .
“Since first reading ’12 Years a Slave’ it has been my dream that this book be taught in schools,” McQueen said.
The film follows a free man living in New York, Solomon Northup, who was abducted and sold into slavery.
Some parents and viewers have already expressed concerns over some of the more graphic images in the film, but educators and the film’s director believe it’s more important to provide an honest account of the story, rather than sugarcoat a dark past.
“Either we’re telling a story about slavery or we’re not,’ McQueen said back in January when critics called his film “torture porn.” “And I wanted to tell a story about slavery. But, I think, it’s not as violent as most films you’ll see at the weekend in the cinema, far from it.”
The funding for distributing the film and books to all the schools is being provided by TV personality Montel Williams, who believed it was vital that this work found its way into classrooms as soon as possible.
“ ’12 Years a Slave’ is one of the most impactful films in recent memory, and I am honored to have been able to bring together Fox Searchlight and National School Boards Association to maximize its educational potential,” Williams said. “When Hollywood is at its best, the power of the movies can be harnessed into a powerful educational tool. This film uniquely highlights a shameful period in American history, and in doing so will evoke in students a desire to not repeat the evils of the past, while inspiring them to dream big of a better and brighter future, and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
The NSBA expects to have all films and books distributed to the high schools by the beginning of the next school year.