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Comparison of 12 Years a Slave and Gangs of New York Films

Updated on July 6, 2020

Comparison of 12 Years a Slave and Gangs of New York films

In the film 12 Years a Slave, there exists a severe relationship amidst black and white women but the subjugated groups do not stand together against their tyrants. White American women and African-Americans have a complex relationship. Moreover, slavery was deemed violent and brutal, and within this film, there is a distinct depiction of that kind of brutality. The film capture the way slaves influenced their respective conditions, managing to initiate the extent of social as well as economic independence (McQueen et al., 2014). Conversely, in the film Gangs of New York, there are prejudices, violence, and vengeance and it also depicts slavery that was meted on the poor people. The conflicted started due to the immigration of the Irish immigrants.

The good guys in the film 12 Years a Slave are Solomon Northup, Bass, and Patsey while the bad guys were Tibeats, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, and Epps. Northup is married with two children and a skillful violinist who was looking for a good-paying job in a bid to provide for his family before being drugged and sold as a slave. Bass is a good guy since he managed to alert the underlying authorities within Northup's hometown of the Saratoga Springs, New York which enabled Northup to regain his freedom (Lopes, 2017). Consequently, a sheriff comes to with a neighbor of the Northup's from the Saratoga, making him be released.

Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam enticed Solomon Northup to Washington, D.C., with the promise of a good-paying job, and drugged him and correspondingly delivered him to a slave pen, who consequently shipped him to New Orleans. Tibeats became an enemy with Solomon Northup and decide to have Northup lynched, but he is saved by Ford's overseer, Chapin before being hanged. Due to Tibeats's hostility, Northup was sold to Epps who is a spiteful and boozy plantation owner.

Epps is deemed to be a bad guy since he often expressed his passion by raping Patsey and his jealous wife often attacks Patsey. Moreover, Epps decided that Patsey had to be punished and compelled Northup to lash her (McQueen et al., 2014). Conversely, in the film of Gangs of New York, the good guy in Amsterdam was solely interested in revenging the death of his father. Bill the butcher is deemed to be a bad guy since it is a 'Nativist' and solely needs America to be an entirely white Anglo-Saxon Protestant nation, and so loathes the current as well as many Catholic emigrants within New York (Jansová, 2015).

The clear hero within 12 Years a Slave is Bass and Northup. Bass highlighted the plight of Northup by alerting the underlying authorities within the Northup's hometown of the Saratoga Springs, New York which enabled a sheriff to come to with a neighbor of the Northup's from the Saratoga, making him be released. Northup is also deemed to a hero since he managed to survive the harsh conditions and reunited with his family (McQueen et al., 2014). In Gangs of New York film, the hero is deemed to be Amsterdam who managed to confront Bill the Butcher as well as his gang and killing him. Consequently, he left for a new life within San Francisco.

The concept of the hero is significant within these two films since it brings out the victory that was eventually achieved despite the hard times that the people experienced. In the case of 12 Years a Slave, Northup returned to his hometown which brought to the end his tribulations in slavery. Conversely, in Gangs of New York, the gang leader was killed leading to the end of the killing resulting at the end of his gang activities within the town (Vernia, 2019).

The main characters within the two films are bitter with their bosses and enemy due to the pain and grief. In the film 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup is bitter because of the pain that has been meted on him by Tibeats and his master. Moreover, Patsey is bitter with Epps who repetitively raped and punished her. She is also bitter with Epps's jealous wife who mistreated hand subjected her to inhumane conditions. Conversely, in the film Gangs of New York, Amsterdam is bitter with the government and Bill the Butcher for killing his father, and the government is unable to control the gangs who terrorized the immigrants in the country. Thus, he planned to take revenge on Bill the Butcher for killing his father (Scorsese et al., 2002).

In the film 12 Years a Slave, the main his historical characters consider the plantations owners and their respective workers to be their enemy by the end of the film. The owner of the plantation encouraged the slave trade, which made them be sold like animals in a bid to attain cheap labor. Moreover, their workers also meted terrible things on the characters. The enemy is depicted to be brutal and violent in the film (McQueen et al., 2014). Conversely, within the Gangs of New York, the historical characters consider Bill the Butcher and his gang members as to be their enemy by the end of the film. The gangs controlled the Five-Point location of New York. Moreover, the leader of a criminal gang was linked to the political formation within New York City. 'Bill the Butcher' played by the Anglo-Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis rules the Five-Points (Vernia, 2019). The gangs typically ensured that individuals would vote for the underlying bosses and their bosses are portrayed to be ruthless and corrupt.

These films raise significant ethical issues such as corruption, bribery, and enslavement by the government. These issues were promoted by the existing administration coupled with the affluent businessmen.

The films typically confront the underlying ethical and moral issues of warfare by portraying war and individual decisions as to the testing of the individual, triumph of nationalism, and a personal quest to overcome (Lopes, 2017). In the 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup found himself in a bad and dangerous situation and it was incumbent upon him to undertake a personal quest in a bid to overcome it. Moreover, by uniting with his family and telling the bad things that are happening, it is deemed to be a triumph of nationalism in combatting the slave trade that occurred in many parts of the country. Conversely, in Gangs of New York, it is considered testing to Amsterdam when his father is killed by the gangs operating within the city and he has to fix it in a bid to overcome it (Jansová, 2015). Thus, the films' historically truthful and complete portrayal of the events that occurred in the country. This made the country to realize numerous problems regarding the zenith of the extended history of rejection and forgetfulness. The violence, bias, as well as racism in the nation's history, is invisible to numerous Americans.

The 12 Years a Slave film has stated facts the way they happened through giving nonpartisan perceptions of the history by undertaking identification of the heroes. They offer the true event that occurred in the United States as well as how the administrations and politicians added in perpetuating the atrocities on the people. Nevertheless, Gangs of New York does not precisely portray the Draft Riots within the year 1863 (Scorsese et al., 2002). Whereas the film depicts extensive anger against the underlying draft and how its corresponding unfairness resulted in riots, it almost overlooked the truth that is transformed into a brutal race riot. Instead, the Draft Riot is solely utilized as the dramatic background for the ultimate confrontation amidst Bill and Amsterdam (Vernia, 2019). The film Gangs of New York also overstate the violence that occurred within the Five Points and nature and their respective motivations are not depicted accurately. Moreover, there is distortion about the Draft Riots of the year 1863.

Assessment of the two films has widened my knowledge of history. The film 12 Years as a Slave is capable of spurring more individuals of entire colors as well as nationalities to think extensively and appreciate the underlying African-American history as an important segment. Moreover, the two films are an unheralded element of a relatively bigger story of the United States as well as world history and utilize the lessons of this very history as individuals continue to grapple with present problems.


Jansová, E. (2015). Twelve Years a Slave: translation and stylistic analysis of 2 chapters of Solomon Northup's narration.

Justice, B. (2003). Historical Fiction to Historical Fact. Social Education, 67(4), 213-216.

Lopes, P. (2017). The power of Hyphen-Nationalism: Martin Scorsese's sojourn from Italian American to White-Ethnic American. Social Identities, 23(5), 562-578.

McQueen, S., Ridley, J., Pitt, B., Gardner, D., Kleiner, J., Pohlad, W., ... & Northup, S. (2014). 12 years a slave. Entertainment One.

Scorsese, M., DiCaprio, L., Day-Lewis, D., & Diaz, C. (2002). Gangs of New York: making the movie. New York: Miramax Books.

Vernia, L. (2019). Race, Riot, and Recovery: Identifying Motive and Methods of Response to the Violence of the 1863 New York City Draft Riots.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Michael Omolo


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