Image for Oscar Nominations, Steve McQueen, Slavery Narratives

Listen now 45 mins

Listen in pop-out player

Oscar Nominations, Steve McQueen, Slavery Narratives

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 16 January 2014

On tonight's Freethinking, the opposite of freedom - and how to describe it. We're going to listen to the voices of slaves. We'll hear the recorded testimony of people who were once regarded as property. And we'll examine the slave autobiographies that became a vigorous literary genre in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. How reliable are they - and what are we relying upon them for?

Matthew Sweet talks to director Steve McQueen about his new film '12 Years A Slave' and assesses this year's Oscar nominations, among them Gravity starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo Di Caprio and directed by Martin Scorsese.

The text from which 12 Years a Slave was created was a narrative of the same name written by Solomon Northup in 1853. There are hundreds of such narratives but who really wrote them, who were they for and what can we tell from the surviving copies? The poet and writer Fred D'Aguiar, the historian Dr Madge Dresser and the anthropologist Dr Kit Davis discuss the ghosts that rise up amongst us when studying such texts.


3 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Oscar Nominations

    The Oscar Nominations were announced for earlier today, for a full list of the year’s nominees click here.

    The winners will be announced on Sunday 2 March.  

  • 12 Years a Slave

    12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, is in cinemas nationwide now, certificate 15.

  • Slave Narratives

    Some of the texts mentioned in the discussion: 

    Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom by Ellen Craft and William Craft

    Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by himself

    The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by himself.

    (The image above is of Olaudah Equiano from the inside cover of this book).

    Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

    Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Nothup

    The History of Mary Prince related by herself

    Poems by Phillis Wheatley


Matthew Sweet
Interviewed Guest
Steve McQueen
Interviewed Guest
Ian Christie
Interviewed Guest
Fred D'Aguiar
Interviewed Guest
Kit Davis
Interviewed Guest
Madge Dresser


Free Thinking Festival 2013

Sir Michael Marmot delivering the Free Thinking lecture

Download all of the talks and debates from Radio 3's festival of ideas

BBC Arts

BBC Arts

Explore the BBC Arts website and discover the best of British art and culture.


  1. Image for Arts and Ideas

    Arts and Ideas

    The best of BBC Radio 3's flagship arts and ideas programme Free Thinking - featuring in-depth…

  2. Image for BBC World War One

    BBC World War One

    BBC Radio brings you stories of the war that changed who we are, with documentaries exploring the…

  3. Image for Music and Culture of WW1

    Music and Culture of WW1

    Highlights of BBC Radio 3’s special programmes to mark the WW1 centenary. Classical music, art,…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss