[KHTS] – Director Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” winner of three Academy Awards including Best Picture, hits closer to home for Santa Clarita resident Michelle Linzy than for most people.
Michelle and her daughters Sierra and Milan Linzy are direct descendants of Solomon Northup, the main character and author of the book on which the movie is based.
“12 Years a Slave,” the book, was originally published in 1853. In it, Northup tells the story of his capture and 12 years of slavery.
He was born as a free man in New York, where he earned a reputation as a violinist. When he was 33 years old, he was kidnapped, taken to New Orleans and sold as a slave.
Linzy grew up reading Northup’s book and later her daughters read it when they were old enough.
“My dad is very much into keeping our family history,” she said.
Linzy is the great-great-great granddaughter of Northup on her father’s side.
When she was younger, Linzy said that she didn’t quite grasp the importance of the relation.
“It was kind of a cool fact,” she said. “I think the value comes as you get older.”
Today, the most significant takeaway from Northup’s story, for Linzy, is the importance of education and Northup’s ability to tell his story to a world that needed to hear it.
“I know one of the things that is a big deal for my family… is education,” she said, “and the value in education comes, as far as the book goes, (from the fact that) Solomon had an incredible ability read and write and was forced into a situation where blacks were not allowed to read or write. I think the biggest part for me is his ability to come back and write what his life was like, in a way that a lot of people could read it and see it.”
At the time, “12 Years a Slave” helped disprove the misconception that African Americans were better off under slavery, Linzy said.
The movie also drives home for modern audiences what slaves in the South experienced.
“When you take a movie like that, and people can see, feel, hear what the characters are doing, feeling, the time period, it brings another whole aspect to that movie,” she said. “It’s a movie that becomes an experience.”
Linzy is also the director and founder of the Valencia-based nonprofit Don’t Be Psycho, which seeks “to eradicate bullying among children, teenagers and young adults through the education of its criminal, legal and psychological properties, consequences and ramifications,” according to their Facebook page.
Linzy was inspired to create Don’t Be Psycho after one of her daughters experienced bullying at school and at home on social media.
She wants children and parents to understand that bullying is sadistic behavior, she said.
When asked if she saw any comparison between the bullying she sees today and what Northup experienced more than 170 years ago, Linzy said that there are correlations, but the major difference is the issue of rights.
While Northup in the antebellum South had no rights, children experiencing bullying today have legal recourse.
“I think we have to treat people the way they want to be treated no matter what time period and no matter where you are,” Linzy said.
She hoped the film and the resurgence in popularity for Northup’s book, would foster discussions among Americans about the past and about injustices still going on around the world.
“I think we have a tendency to think that because we don’t have people in chains…, that slavery doesn’t exist,” Linzy said. “I don’t think we’re as far removed from slavery in 2014 as we think we are.”
In addition to Best Picture, “12 Years a Slave” won Best Adapted Screenplay, which was written by John Ridley. Lupita Nyong’o also won Best Supporting Actress for her role as “Patsey” in the movie.
To learn more about Linzy’s organization Don’t Be Psycho, visit the Facebook page.