'12 Years a Slave' Director Exposes Modern Slavery at Oscars

Lupita Nyong'o
Director and producer Steve McQueen celebrates after accepting the Oscar for best picture with Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave. |

When "12 Years a Slave" Director Steve McQueen accepted the Oscar for "Best Picture" on Sunday night, he dedicated the award to the 21 million people still in slavery today. Experts drew a comparison between sex trafficking and the struggles of Solomon Northrup, the film's main character, and also compared modern slavery and Christian persecution.

"Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup," McQueen declared in his Oscar acceptance speech. "I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today." Fact-checking website PolitiFact rated his statement "Mostly True," since he cited the 2012 estimate from the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency.

Taryn Manstrean, director of Communications at Shared Hope International, a group dedicated to fighting human sex trafficking, compared the struggles of the Oscar-winning film's main character, Solomon Northup, to those of women in the sex trade. "He was a free man and was taken into slavery – he struggled to escape and survive," Manstrean explained. "In the exact same way, most of these girls did not start a slave."

"They struggle, whether they know it or not, to free their lives and escape," Manstrean argued. She declared that, without a doubt, "human trafficking is slavery." She also reported Shared Hope's estimate that 100,000 American children are trafficked within the United States every year. According to Shared Hope, the average age a child is first exploited through prostitution is 13.

Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave
Lead character Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) tries writing a letter to his family in New York to rescue him from a Louisiana plantation where he is being held as a captive in Steve McQueen's '12 Years a Slave'. |

Manstrean presented the two types of human bondage outlawed by the Federal Trafficking Victims Act: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. When it comes to sex trafficking, she argued, the prevailing view is misleading. Many see prostitution as a woman "offering a service and a man is just being a man by buying it." Nevertheless, she argued that a person should never have to sell their own body.

"It's not boys being boys, men being men," Manstrean argued. "It's not the oldest profession in the world. It's actually slavery." She explained that the victims do not decide when to wake up or go to bed, whether they can go to school or even put on their own makeup. Rather, "their life is 100 percent controlled by the pimp, and also by the buyer."

Often, it is not clear that the woman is being forced into prostitution, the Shared Hope spokesman admitted. The truth is hidden, she said, by the fact that "pimps and traffickers identify what a woman wants more than anything, and they manipulate that to get her to do anything for them."

Todd Nettleton, director of Media Development for Voice of the Martyrs, connected the mentality of slavery with that of religious persecution. "If you disregard a person's basic human rights, such as religious freedom, you're more likely to think that slavery is an acceptable option for another person," Nettleton argued. He claimed that some of the nations where slavery is most widespread also have a great amount of Christian persecution.

In order to render the persecution more concrete, he mentioned a Christian who was imprisoned in China "because he had the audacity to sell Christian materials at his bookstore." According to the 2013 Global Slavery Index, China is the country with the second highest absolute numbers of enslaved people – between 2.8 million and 3.1 million.

Nevertheless, this Christian bookseller is witnessing for Christ, even in prison. "Even in the darkness of a Chinese prison the light of the Gospel shines," Nettleton explained. "Even in bondage a person can still serve the Lord and do kingdom work."

The Global Slavery Index estimated that 29.8 million people were enslaved in 2013.

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