2014 Oscar nominees: History themed topics of slavery and scandal in American films

"12 Years a Slave" is based on real life events of slavery in America.

“12 Years a Slave” is based on real life events of slavery in America.

If you’re interested in American history and in movies, then you’ll love this year’s Oscar nominees. The list of nominees for best picture includes films based on a true story of slavery in America, a political scandal from the 1970s, the hijacking of an American vessel by Somali pirates and the downfall of a corrupt Wall Street stockbroker. Here’s a look at three of the stories to be found in the 2014 nominees for best picture.

12 Years a Slave

“12 Years a Slave,” based on the book of the same name, is the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who in 1841 was abducted and sold into slavery.

The text is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Its electronic version is available for reading online. The book is the narrative of Solomon Northup’s experiences as a slave in pre-Civil War America.

In describing his realization that two white men who had employed him had actually sold him into slavery, Northup said, “Though suspicions of Brown and Hamilton were not unfrequent, I could not reconcile myself to the idea that they were instrumental to my imprisonment. […] Alas! I had not then learned the measure of “man’s inhumanity to man,” nor to what limitless extent of wickedness he will go for the love of gain.”

Voices of free blacks in antebellum America

You can delve deeper into the stories of free blacks in antebellum (pre-civil war) America on Questia where you’ll find thousands of full-text books and articles. Among the many books related to the black experience is I Will Wear No Chain!” A Social History of African-American Males, by Christopher B. Booker.

This book follows the stories of African-American men from the days before the civil war up to present day.

According to Booker, “Almost from the very emergence of the antebellum northern black communities, the black male population has suffered from disproportionate imprisonment. Lacking legal protections, as convenient targets of scapegoating, and economically disfranchised, it was almost inevitable that their involvement in the criminal justice system would be relatively extensive.”

American Hustle

On a lighter note, the film “American Hustle” is loosely based on the late 1970s political scandal known as Abscam. It was a sting operation carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to root out corruption among U.S. politicians. The operation involved more than 100 FBI agents including a fake Arab sheik.

In a December 26, 2013, article for the WashingtonPost.com titled, “To the players in Abscam, the real-life ‘American Hustle,’ the bribes now seem quaint,” Richard Leiby outlined the workings of the FBI operation.

“The sting took its name from Abdul Enterprises Ltd., a Long Island company the FBI created as a cover for the sheiks, who said they wanted to invest their oil wealth in the United States — for example, in the newly opened Atlantic City casino market — and also obtain permanent residency,” Leiby explained.

The undercover agents offered members of Congress bribes in exchange for favorable treatment. The operation resulted in prison terms for six representatives and one senator on charges of bribery and conspiracy.

Captain Phillips

The film “Captain Phillips” relates the events surrounding the hijacking of an American cargo vessel off the coast of Africa in 2009. According to crewmembers who lived through the ordeal, the film depiction is not true to the facts.

The story within a story was relayed by Maureen Callahan in her October 13, 2013, article for the NewYorkPost.com titled, “Crew members: ‘Captain Phillips’ is one big lie.”

Callahan reported the reactions of crew members who served on the Maersk Alabama with Captain Phillips during its hijacking. One crewman in particular was unhappy with how Phillips is portrayed in the film. “He worked very closely with Phillips on the Maersk Alabama and was alarmed by his behavior from the beginning. Phillips, he says, had a bad reputation for at least 12 years prior, known as a sullen and self-righteous captain,” Callahan said.

Instead of risking his own life to save his crew as is depicted in the film, crew members say that Phillips disregarded orders and placed them and the ship at risk. Such is their anger that 11 crew members have filed a $50 million suit against the Maersk Line and the Waterman Steamship Corporation alleging, “willful, wanton and conscious disregard for their safety.”

Read more about the history of African-Americans in antebellum America on Questia.

What is your favorite Oscar nominee for best picture? Tell us in the comments below.

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