Author Topic: 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)  (Read 122 times)

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Offline agate

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12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)
« on: May 18, 2014, 12:21:52 pm »
I have been hoping for years to read the book, Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and kept as a slave in the south for 12 years. I haven’t yet read it but at least there’s this movie of it now.

The real Solomon Northup is said to have written a play based on his book–the account of his kidnapping into slavery in 1841 and the ensuing dozen years he spent as a slave. I don’t know if the movie is based on his play or on his book.

But it is long past time that this story was told, giving the viewing audience slavery as it was, the antebellum South as it was. Maybe the US viewing audience has finally grown weary of Gone with the Wind and other films perpetuating the Southern mythology that has comforted and lulled the white race into thinking it was all just a misty dream filled with mint juleps and Spanish moss and dashing Confederate soldiers, with many a white southern child being named after Robert E. Lee for generations.

12 Years a Slave gives us the Spanish moss and a few views of the elegant dancing going on in the big house but the rest of the time we’re looking at the world as the slaves must have known it.

That this world was real and not so long ago became obvious to me as a child when Southern African-Americans were bent over cotton in the fields, struggling to eke out a living so they could inhabit the weather-beaten tiny houses that dotted the southern landscape, not so very different from the weather-beaten structures seen in this movie, set in 1841-1853. By the 1940s, when I was in the south, there were also weather-beaten churches and schools, but some of the structures had no electricity, and many had no indoor plumbing. 

African-Americans couldn’t drink at white drinking fountains or use the main entrances in any building.  If they went to a white person’s house, it was understood that they would turn up at the back door, never at the front, because “of course” they were there only because they were reporting for work there or applying for work.

Not so far from slavery when you think about it.  A hundred years later.

From what little I know about slave conditions in the south at the time, I’d say that this movie probably has it right. The cruelty of slave-owners and the very bare subsistence level at which the slaves lived are what has gone largely unmentioned in history books, novels, and movies. This movie focuses on these conditions, and it is an excruciatingly painful film to watch.

This is not a movie that is exploiting a story for its shock value. There are many scenes of chilling brutality, but my guess is that these are in the book as well, and that Solomon Northup was not making them up. There is too much evidence from other stories like his.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Solomon Northup is stunning, and all of the acting seems at least adequate though the overly formal language makes the dialogue seem as if lines are being awkwardly read at times.

I wonder why the ending failed to mention what became of Patsey, though–a particularly cruelly abused, very young slave who was hoping for help from Solomon all along, and whom Solomon promised to see again soon. But she’s never mentioned again.

Bravo for this movie.
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