12 Years A Slave | Some Thoughts

So I went to see 12 Years A Slave. I previously wrote that I wouldn’t but was convinced by my wife and some friends to go and just watch it. So I did. Here are some thoughts.

Review
There will be no obvious spoilers for those who have not seen the film but I think Steve McQueen’s cinematography and directorial style of capturing the Southern states of North America was flawless. He is known for his prolonged scenes and “the hanging” and “the whipping” scenes emotionally tore out my insides. Given that it was a true story as opposed to say, Django, it hit home even more for me. The elderly gentleman sitting beside me in the cinema was exhaling at every miscarriage of justice. It took a lot for me to not leave the cinema as it seemed to unearth a lot of pain about my own ideas on the notions of slavery, colonialism and the post colonial legacy and some of my own personal ideologies about being a minority.

The narrative arc on this was brilliant and whilst a lot of emphasis is on the main character Solomon Northrup, the parallel story of Patsey was just as compelling. The roles of William Ford, Edwin Epps and Epps wife stood out for me along with other strong played roles in the film.

Slavery
I left the cinema slightly early before the end of the credits. Met my wife outside and was speechless. That film pulled at me on so many levels. Firstly, the fact that a nation such as as America, that prides itself on all its citizens chasing a dream endured this. A nation claiming to be free of European tyranny was actually guilty of the same developing its economic infrastructure on the back of slavery of Africans and the desecration of American Indian culture. A nation that although it has a man of colour at its helm still suffers from the legacy of inequality originally sparked by slavery.
Secondly it made me think about the fact that slavery is still widespread in this day and age. That some economies, people and communities still find it acceptable regardless of hue, ethnicity, religion, whatever to trade humans as property and have structures that will support this.

Conversations on Race.
I went to the cinema yesterday having suppressed the idea that I could not sit through a film with non blacks, where black people were constantly being called nigga and being physically and verbally abused. I remember the anger I felt when watching Roots and Mississippi Burning. But then I thought. The people in the room weren’t responsible for slavery. They weren’t the abusers. It probably did not even register on most of the minds of the attendees in the sold out cinema that I was one of five black people in the cinema and why should it?
So why should I have preconceived notions about what others might be thinking on the film?
What was going on in this film that initially subconsciously prompted me to judge anyone who didn’t look like me in the cinema?
Why do we as humans do that all for people who look different than us?
So many damn questions raced through my mind.

The thing is there is data out there on how perceive each other who have different racial, ethnic or shades to us. If such a film forces us to think again about how we either subconsciously or consciously perceive each other, treat each other then it can only be a good thing.

Recommended
I highly recommend the film for all to see. It is tough viewing. Especially the scenes of violence but as a piece of theatre it is beautifully shot and the cast is stellar. I hope some honest conversations come out of it. Ironically it took a British Director and quite large non-American cast to honestly portray some of the uglier sides of slavery and its legacy. Others may prefer Django but this for me has to be one of the best films I have seen in an absolute age. Brutal. Honest. Jarring. Emotional. Thought provoking. Excellent.

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