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'12 Years a Slave' moves from the big screen to classrooms

In the new film adaptation of
In the new film adaptation of "Twelve Years A Slave", Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.
Jaap Buitendijk/Fox Searchlight Pictures

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The now three-time Academy-Award winning film, "12 Years a Slave" will be making its way into classrooms nationwide in the fall. The film, along with Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir, will be integrated into high school curriculums in state-run districts across the country.

Tom Gentzel, executive director of the National School Boards Association, joins us to talk about bringing the film into schools.


Why are you doing this?

"Well, I think it's an incredibly important story and also an important topic that's important for school districts to be aware of. I do wanted to say that we're not directly putting this into any school district's curriculum. What we're trying to do is make it available as an option that each district can decide for themselves whether they want to use it, how they want to use it, but I think it's just an amazing opportunity for them and we're really proud to be able to make that possible."

How did it come about?

"Our association NSBA is conducting a campaign to promote public education in the country and one of the folks that we have been working with is Montel Williams, who has agreed to be a celebrity spokesperson for our campaign. Montel's company is involved in the distribution of this film and so in our conversations with him this opportunity came up. He presented it and we were happy to work with him on this as well as on our campaign."

How will the film be used?

"Well, I think there are probably a number of places that schools may choose to use this and I would first really like to emphasize that the agreement that we with Fox Searchlight and the other related parties is that an adapted version of this movie would be made available. It would be edited to be appropriate for high school audiences."

What does that entail?

"It's looking at some scenes that are fairly graphic or potentially violent. I think Steve McQueen and others who were involved in this were most concerned about was the story and the implications of this story, the sharing and discuss in high school classrooms and that there not be a needless controversy over some of the more graphic content."

What's different about teaching slavery through this film?

"One of the remarkable things that I think has happened in public education over the last couple of years thanks to school districts becoming wired and connected with the internet and so on, is created a fairly broaden range of materials that school districts can draw on. They're not just limited to textbooks in the traditional sense and so I think it's kind of been keeping with that. I think a lot of districts and teachers and administrators look for unique opportunities to teach important subject matter and I think this is just the latest in that way of looking how to bring material to students that is relevant and timely. Certainly the fact that this movie collected some Academy Awards makes it an even more significant offering, but it would have been in any event because I think it's an important topic. "