Fact Checking the Oscar-winning ’12 Years a Slave’

The real Northup was a skilled carpenter and violinist before being captured and sold into slavery. (The Washington Post)

Congratulations to the cast and crew of “12 Years a Slave,” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the Year. Now, find out how much of what was on screen really happened through Truth Teller for Trailers.

The Fact Checker, working with the Truth Teller team, separated fact from fiction for each of the six nominated films that were based actual events— all within the trailer experience. Fact-checking movies is the first big expansion this year of Truth Teller, which has until now focused on political speech. When trailers are released for new and notable films in the ‘based-on-a-true-story’ genre, we’ll quickly check the facts and release the trailer with the Truth Teller experience.

Our goal is to scrutinize the big stuff. Is it an accurate portrayal of history? Are the characters based on real people? We’re not looking to play gotcha on the little embellishments inherent in storytelling.

We have marked outright falsehoods on the trailers with a red line over text, while a green line indicates an accurate depiction and a blue one is used for context and other useful information.

Readers may also be interested in reading one of the original sources we used for our research–a New York Times article from Jan. 20, 1853 on the Solomon Northrup case that was the basis of the movie.

For the rest of the movies we scrutinized, go to wapo.st/truthtrailers.

More on the Academy Awards:

’12 Years a Slave’ takes top honors

Full list of winners

Full Recap: Academy Awards 2014

Glenn Kessler has reported on domestic and foreign policy for more than three decades. He would like your help in keeping an eye on public figures. Send him statements to fact check by emailing him, tweeting at him, or sending him a message on Facebook.



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Glenn Kessler · March 3, 2014

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