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I cannot hear this!
~ William Ford refusing to believe Solomon Northup when the latter insists that he is a free man, not a slave.

William Ford is a fictionalized version of the historical figure of the same name who appears in the 2013 film 12 Years a Slave. He is the first of Solomon Northup's two slave owners, and though he is kinder than the second owner (Edwin Epps), he is nevertheless a coward who refuses to listen to Solomon when the latter tries to convince him that he is in fact a free man and not a slave.

He was portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, who also portrayed Sauron and Smaug in The Hobbit trilogy, Dormammu in Doctor Strange, Shere Khan in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, The Grinch in the 2018 film of the same name, and Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek: Into Darkness.


After Solomon Northup is kidnapped by slave traders, he is sold to William Ford, who in his own way takes a liking to Solomon (though he still expects him to work for him). When Solomon works hard and impresses Ford, the latter (who is by now aware that Solomon has musical talents), presents him with a violin as a gift. However, as tensions mount between Solomon and a white hired hand who also works on the plantation, Ford concludes that the only way to keep Solomon "safe" is to re-sell him. Solomon tries in vain to convince William Ford that he is a free man who has been kidnapped and sold into slavery. Ford refuses to believe him (and in fact refuses to even listen to him), and sells him to the more brutal and vicious slave-owner Edwin Epps.


  • Benedict Cumberbatch and Chiwetel Ejiofor would work together again 3 years later in Doctor Strange, this time with Cumberbatch as the hero, and Ejiofor as the villain.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch is from a wealthy family who owned and sold slaves in the 19th century; Cumberbatch has said that taking this role was his way of "making up" for his ancestors' crimes.
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