Kids used to read books like Roots and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to learn about slavery in high school, but now films are being added to the curriculum: Best Picture nominee 12 Years a Slave, to be exact. Beginning later this year, public high schools may begin showing the film and distributing the book it was based on. Talk show host Montel Williams coordinated this initiative, saying in a press statement, “When Hollywood is at its best, the power of the movies can be harnessed into a powerful educational tool.”
The National School Boards Association announced their partnership with Penguin Books, New Regency, and 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen on their website this weekend. In the statement, McQueen says, “Since first reading 12 Years a Slave, it has been my dream that this book be taught in schools.”
The film follows Solomon Northup (Best Actor contender Chiwetel Ejiofor), a formerly free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film chronicles his time spent as a slave, where he meets Patsey (Best Supporting Actress nominee Lupita Nyong’o) and suffers the wrath of plantation owners. It’s based on a book of the same name, a memoir by Northup himself. “Allowing students to see the tragic circumstances and messages conveyed through these works are vital to learning and reflection on our nation’s era of slavery,” said NSBA’s executive director Thomas J. Gentzel in the statement.
Distribution of the film and book will begin in September at the start of the new school year.