Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Ridley is concerned that moviegoers might miss a key lesson from the poignant script he wrote for the hit movie 12 Years a Slave.
“As beautiful as this film is, one of the dangers is people will go in and say thank God we’re not like that anymore. The fact of the matter is,” Ridley said, “it is going on right now.”
Speaking Friday night on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Ridley noted that millions are tricked into slavery today, just as Solomon Northop was in 12 Years a Slave.
The film is based on a true story — Northop was a free African-American in New York who thought he was joining a traveling musical group in the 1840s. He was trafficked to a plantation in the South until activists helped him assert his legal rights to return home.
“It can happen, it can happen here,” Ridley said about trafficking today. “Whether it’s forced labor, whether it’s sex trafficking, if there are individuals that cannot have their right of self determination, then it’s slavery.”
“There are literally tens of thousands of people here in this country right now, where it’s happening,” Ridley noted. “The places where it can happen will shock you.”
“Slavery is not just a thing of the past,” Maher said.
Ridely has been nominated for a best adapted screenplay Oscar. He transformed Northop’s original book about his ordeal in slavery into the story now being seen by millions in theaters.
Northop’s book was a best seller in the 1850s and helped propel the United States toward abolition. Learn more about the book here. The film has already won this year’s Golden Globe for best drama, and is up for nine Oscars, including best picture, on March 2nd.
Learn more about the state of slavery in the world today on the downloadable Free the Slaves Trafficking and Slavery Fact Sheet.