Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, based on the book, is one of the most pertinent films of our time and I hope it sells out in the box office, and that it becomes an educational tool to really spark a serious dialogue about how damaging and traumatic slavery was in America.
It’s terrible that a lot of people don’t understand the gravity of slavery with regard to how inhumane it was and how its effects still linger in 2013. When we think about mainstream movies that have attempted to take an in-depth look at slavery we can’t name many (Django Unchained doesn’t count). The most popular ones are probably Amistad and Roots (and maybe Glory), but let’s be real, Hollywood isn’t checking for biopics about slavery so I’m glad the crew behind 12 Years a Slave saw fit to turn the book into a movie since the story is straight from a victim’s pen. If more people were educated about slavery then we’d have a lot less people making ignorant comments like”Get over it,” or “Africans sold Africans into slavery” (as if to say, “It’s your fault!”), and we wouldn’t have states like Texas revising textbooks to basically redefine slavery by comparing it to unpaid internships.
For those who may not know, 12 Years a Slave was written by a man named Solomon Northup (payed by Chewitel Ejiofor in the movie), a freeman living in Upstate New York who got kidnapped and sold into slavery. After 12 years he was finally freed, reunited with his family and he became an abolitionist. Kidnapping and selling free Black people (because women were affected too) was a common practice, but the fact that Northup was able to escape (I won’t reveal how for the sake of suspense) was an anomaly as most kidnapped freemen never made it out.
The movie doesn’t get into his work as an abolitionist (not much is known about that phase) but the meat of the film was just enough for us to get the point…and it was a doozy. I mentioned, in my previous post about Lupita Nyong’o, that I cried a couple of times during the film–something I don’t do often, even when I’m watching movies that depict racial injustice. However, the acting was riveting (if y’all don’t know about Chewitel Ejiofor, get thee to IMDB and then Netflix now! The man is a sleeper.) on all accounts and the story was terrifying as viewers went on Northup’s journey from a family man and prodigal virtuoso who lived in a seemingly racially harmonious town to a lowly slave who saw no end in sight. On his journey, he was flogged, nearly lynched, witnessed lynchings that he was powerless to stop, witnessed children being torn from their mothers, saw women being raped and he befriended Patsy (played by Nyong’o), a tormented woman who was consistently defiled by her psychotic and alcoholic slave master (played by Michael Fassbender who also did an excellent job) and brutalized by his jealous wife.
In one scene following her breaking point with being raped and tormented on a nightly basis (I considered walking out on her rape scene because it was devastating but instead, I sat there and cried), Patsy begs Solomon to kill her. Solomon doesn’t do it but wonders why she chose him. I forgot her response to his inquiry ver batim but the just of it was that she’d rather him end her life because she respected him, and dying by his hand would allow her to keep some dignity (made my problems look really lame). Speaking of the latter, despite the wretched nature of their lives, both characters still kept a certain regality in enduring their pain and there’s something to be said about that because you have to come from a strong legacy in order to survive something like that.
I feel like I’m rambling so I’m going to end my thoughts here. I just had to get that out about the movie but I must warn you to brace yourself and if you do get the urge to leave during certain scenes or close your eyes (which you might), force yourself to watch it all the way through and think about how it could have been had you actually lived it.
Organize as many people as you can to see this on opening night, October 18. Opening night is the most important and if this movie does well then it sends the message that more like this are needed. We don’t always have to delve into slavery. I’m ready for other stories about the African diaspora to make it to film.
How about a biopic on Harriet Tubman (which is allegedly coming), or Nat Turner, or even the Mali Empire?