Intelligence is not required to see that African-Americans (non-whites in general) are extremely underrepresented in the world of television and film here in the United States. There aren’t a bunch opportunities to be had, but there are a large amount of stories about the Black experience that can be told. With the apparent lack of ideas floating around in Hollywood, you’d think that they’d be more interested in looking at this segment of America, but that doesn’t look to be the case. It appears like most of them would much rather continue to push out remakes and superhero movies in order to combat what the issues that they currently have. Maybe movies like The Butler and 12 Years a Slave can assist in changing that.
Movies featuring African-American people and non-Whites as a whole don’t even have to be based on true stories like those two films are, but there are a large number of actual events to look to if they want to focus on these kinds of things to find inspiration and at least a small bit of originality. 12 Years a Slave contains one of those stories and includes things that many of us are familiar with while also encompassing some aspects of race and slavery that some of us haven’t really heard about. It’s something that can surely be educational to many who are willing to open their eyes and give it a chance.
The story in 12 Years a Slave focuses on Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an African-American who was born and raised as a free man in the northeastern region of the United States of America. It’s based on his personal account of the 12 years that he spent as a slave in the southern parts of America. 1841 was the year that he first ran into his unfortunate while living in Sarasota, New York with his wife and two children. He’s living a good life at this point and is regarded as a talented violinist by those that he considers to be friends, family and associates.
While living the life that many would like to live, Northup found himself a target of men who made a living stealing Black people from the north and escorting them south so they could be sold into slavery. He didn’t know it at the time, but there eyes were locked in on him and his time as a free man was quickly fading away. It’s something that a number of unaccounted for people of color had experienced in Northern America and Northup was just one of the latest in line.
Sooner than later, the highly regard violinist finds himself tricked and forced into the most lucrative trade in American history. Whether he liked it or not, the captive is now on his way to becoming a slave as he’s all of sudden chained to the endless nightmare of servitude to the types of oppressive slave masters that he had only ever heard about. It’s a situation that no one would ever want to find themselves in, but it also has to be even scarier for someone whose last memories were of a normal life in a normal situation.
With being involuntarily placed into this morale killing position, he’s surrounded by a type of Black person who’s never known what it’s meant to be free before. These people are slaves who have spent their entire lives on fields of slave master doing the job that he refuses to do. They can’t read, write and are actually physically beaten and mentally brutalized if the master is even thinking that they may start to think for themselves. Of course, it’s new to him and the men who control the whips and chains are determined to make him submit to their way of thinking.
One of the men who first come to take him as a slave is William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). He’s a nicer version of a slave master, but those aren’t the only overseers that he and his fellow captives have to worry about. Men like John Tibeats (Paul Dano) are the ones who are determined to break him if not kill him if he chooses not to submit fully to their will. It’s a dangerous game to play for Northup, but kissing the feet of another man doesn’t come easy to a man who has never had to do so.
Another man that he becomes a slave to is Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a man who makes slave masters like Ford look like the saint of all saints. He’s demeaning and appears to be on the verge of losing it at anytime. insubordination and perceived disrespect or disobedience isn’t tolerated by him in any way from anyone. He treats his slaves like the animals that he perceives them to be regardless of their intelligence, knowledge or wisdom that they may have. Living with him is obviously difficult, even for the people who he calls family.
While moving through these 12 years that Northup experienced as a slave in the south, the audience bares witness to many of the brutalities that slaves had to face at the hands of the men who were considered their masters and the overseers they employed. Keeping your faith, your strength and integrity was no easy task for a slave, but some of them found a way whether they escaped, became free or died in the fields of inequality. Solomon Northup was one of the slaves who became free and faced those problems at the hands of men who lost their respect for humanity and integrity years before he ever set foot in the south.
12 Years a Slave goes out of its way to truly illustrate the savagery that’s not really spoken of in today’s version of America. Some of what is shown in this picture is without a doubt what some will see as very hard to watch, but it’s also pretty close to what many of us have already heard about. In my opinion, films containing this subject matter have to be done this way, because it has to be faithful to what really took place. There’s no “lightening” things up and that’s exactly what I anticipated going in.
It not only shows the usual stuff that we know about when it comes to slavery, it also shows some of the differences between Black people in terms of their mentalities toward how they dealt with the “cards” that they were dealt. Some would fight, some would submit and others found a way to survive by submitting more than they were originally told to. In that sense, it certainly takes the time to go into the psyches of different types of people who were pushed into these unfortunate circumstances. From house negroes to field negroes to complete sellouts to their race, much of it is there.
12 Years a Slave also gives the viewer a glimpse of what the slave masters were like back then. They don’t show you everything, but they do show you a lot. These guys were ruthless and heartless in unimaginable ways and it makes you wonder how humans could do these types of things to one another. Slave masters and most racists alike view Black people as being inferior to them. I guess you can say that they see them as closer to animals than humans, so that allows them to lose their own humanity in the process if they ever had any to begin with.
As many of us know, they would often use things such as religion to justify their treatment of slaves and Black people in general. That’s something that’s also shown in 12 Years a Slave, and theirs a bunch of other stuff utilized to put everything into its proper perspective for the audience. They show a ton of different things from those days, but I actually wanted them to show more even though I know why they couldn’t. Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley are only talking about what Northup experienced during his 12 years in slavery. That’s why some of what I wanted in here isn’t included, so I can’t hold that against them.
What I do hold against them is the feel of the movie as a whole. I personally think that 12 Years a Slave is a movie of high quality that I certainly recommend, but the entire experience feels like more of an account of Northup’s 12 years as a slave rather than an actual movie. I say that, because I didn’t have that emotional connection that I should have had. I think it’s because the film just tosses you into everything without setting it all up like they should have.
The film almost immediately throws you into his journey as a slave while barely spending time showing him as a free man beforehand. It’s there, but I don’t think they even spent find minutes on it to be honest with you. I would have liked to have seen him spending more time with his family, before he’s just snatched away from them. I know that his family life was supposed to be good, but what did they do? What did they believe in? Who were they as a family? Never making any of that clear turns 12 Years a Slave into what could be simply a tool to educate. From that point it does a great job, but from an emotional standpoint I needed a little more.
In that sense, it reminds me of some of the foreign films that I’ve watched over the years. I love foreign films, but sometimes they lack the emotional connection that I want to experience while watching movies that deal with heavy subjects. I don’t know why they do it, but it’s one of the few things that I’m not to0 fond of when it comes to movies from other countries. I know that 12 Years a Slave isn’t technically a foreign film, but it’s directed by Steve McQueen, a British director and it stars a number of British actors.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t experience the full brunt of emotion that I anticipated. Maybe it’s because of my knowledge of Black history. It could be either way. Seeing as I’m African-American myself, I’ve studied a bunch of different things about Black history in and outside of America. Maybe if I hadn’t, some of what’s shown in 12 Years a Slave may have shocked me more and hit me harder. Don’t get me wrong; I felt it, but not as much as I wanted to.
With all that I’ve said, 12 Years a Slave is quite the educational tool for people wanting to learn about the history that we don’t learn about from watching television, film or opening up the history books that are given to us in American schools. Most of the stuff that I learned was on my own outside of school or any of the other places that should be teaching us about our real history in America. It’s kind of crazy when a British dude is willing to teach us more about ourselves than our own movies and our own school system. That should never happen. Hopefully, this can inspire us to do more than what we’ve done so far. It couldn’t hurt can it?
In this review of 12 Years a Slave, I never got to the acting in the film. For the record, I’ll say that it’s great all around, and these guys really know what they’re doing. There’s also a legitimate chance that Michael Fassbender will at least be nominated for some hardware in this upcoming movie awards season for his work as a supporting actor in this film. Then Again, I also wouldn’t be shocked if this movie ends up being a frontrunner for Best Picture and all that stuff. I don’t know if they’ll win, but that’s not important to me. What’;s important is that people go out and see it. Some of you may shed a few tears based on the reactions that I saw from the screening that I went to.