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|“||Sin? There is no sin! A man does how he pleases with his property. At that moment, Platt, I am of great pleasure. You be goddamn careful I don't come wantin' to lightenin' my mood no further.||„|
|~ Edwin Epps to Solomon after he whips Patsey.|
Edwin Epps is the main antagonist of 12 Years a Slave.
Edwin is first seen using biblical "wisdoms" to force the slaves to comply to his demands. He forces Solomon Northup to work for him and treats Patsey, a female slave, like his love-raping her on a regular basis. The next day, he gets furious with Northup for Patsey's disappearance and attacks him. He catches Patsey with soap, believing she has stolen it, and forces Northup to whip her. Northup begins to do so, but Epps grabs the whip and lashes Patsey ferociously. However, Epps is defeated when Northup is set free and taken home to his family.
Unlike the benevolent slave owner William Ford, Epps was a vicious, pitiless and despicable monstrosity who gave not just Caucasians, but all humans a bad name. No matter how normal he thought slavery was, he took xenophobia to new heights and was a downright depraved man. A prejudiced, lazy, self-loathing, alcoholic coward, Epps showed nothing but disdain for every African around him, despite his infatuation with Patsy whom he treated like a sex slave. He was sexually sadistic as he throttled and smacked Patsey while having sex with her.
Epps had no problem with White people and thought Black people were a breed of animal, baboons to be specific. However, racism and slave ownership were not his only sins as he constantly cheated on his wife with Patsy and let the latter take all the abuse for it. Even though he knew black people were able to think and feel, he thought they deserved only the worst possible existence, figuring them an abomination before God, put on earth for the soul purpose of being abused, worked and tortured. He took pride in his sadism and found the idea of racial equality humorous.
Right before Patsy was whipped, Epps initially showed reluctance due to his fascination with her. However, his fear of being made a fool of (which his vile wife used to manipulate him) and his love for cruelty to his slaves was stronger than his mercy and he allowed himself to be established as irredeemably evil by torturing the innocent Patsy almost to death. He then went and made it worse by verbally admitting that he enjoyed it. Simply put, it was his disregard for other people's freedom and his ability to make them suffer without second thought that makes him the horrific monster he truly is.
Epps is shown in the film to be extremely unstable and has wild, unpredictable mood swings accompanied by great violence and confusing changes of whim - often threatening to torture or kill mass numbers of his own slaves when enraged only to slowly "calm" himself into a more rational (yet still vicious) state.
Despite his hatred of African Americans he was shown to have developed a twisted, extremely violent and wild attraction to Patsey and would take out his frustrations on both her and other slaves over the matter : he also grew to develop an equally twisted "admiration" of sorts towards Solomon, whereby he would not kill him despite numerous threats to do so.. finding Solomon's resistance to his cruelty as something new, seeming to make it his own mission to break Solomon's will to fight rather than kill him outright - his disturbed rivalry of sorts with Solomon was further shown when he became extremely enraged at the prospect of Solomon becoming a "free man", not just because he was losing money and labor but had grown to despise the idea that Solomon would be able to effectively get away without being fully broken by Epps.
- Epps was guilty of other crimes in real life that the film does not show. In Solomon Northup's autobiography, Epps would get drunk and make the slaves pull his carriage while whipping them for fun.
- Michael Fassbender was nominated for 22 acting awards for his portrayal of Epps including a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and an Oscar and won 13 other acting awards.
- Epps real house is a modern day historic site.
- There is a scene where, after Epps' slaves return from Shaw's, Epps is shown being very friendly to an African American child. People have debated this kindness he holds towards her given this is completely out of character for him. Considering she is never seen again after her one scene, her fate is left ambiguous. Since Patsey was crying as he carried the child, this most likely implies he had something bad in store for her. According to Michael Fassbender in an interview, Epps was raising her to be his next sex slave: "It says so much with him holding her hand, not wearing pants: He's priming the next Patsey. So you find those little elements that add to the character and tell things without any exposition". This would make Epps somewhat pedophilic in his nature (in fact Epps was a pedophile as in reality he raped Patsey many times, even when she was under sixteen years of age).
- Epps read Solomon Northup's autobiography and confirmed it was mostly true, praising Solomon's cleverness. This information was accumulated by Union soldiers during the Civil War.
- Michael Fassbender was so uncomfortable with the rape scene involving Edwin and Patsey, that he momentarily passed out after filming it.
- Epps and his wife died in 1867, two years after Abraham Lincoln (which by extension means they lived to see slavery abolished) of unknown circumstances. Though many speculate it was due to yellow plague.
- Patsey was taken from Epps' plantation roughly a decade after Solomon was freed. According to another slave named Bob, Patsey "went away with our army last week, so she is at last far from the caprices of her jealous mistress." The circumstances of her death remain unknown but she at least lived her final years free of Epps & his wife.