The first time—in fact the first two times—I watched 12 Years a Slave
in preparation for my annual lecture on the Academy award nominees for best picture, I really saw nothing about the faith of the slaves in the picture. But in fact, in one crucial scene near the end of the movie, Solomon Northup, the main character in the movie, has a “conversion” of sorts, when he is at the funeral of a fellow slave. While the slaves are singing “Roll, Jordan, Roll”, Northup is so despondent and has faced so many disappointments in his attempts to get free that he at first is silent, clearly refusing to sing. But the words seem to work on him, and eventually he joins in, tentatively at first but in the end with great gusto. In addition, at several other times in the film, the slaves sing spirituals while working in the fields.