12 Years A Slave – Directed by Steve McQueen
Release date – January 30th 2014
African Americans have always faced challenges in their “adopted” homeland, but the mid 18th century was an especially nasty time to be a black person in America.
In a period prior to the Civil War that would see slavery finally abolished in 1865’s thirteenth amendment to the American Constitution, across much of the country, it was perfectly fine in the eyes of the law to see a slave as nothing more than a man’s property.
And a man was free to treat his property as he pleased. In the case of many slave owners this meant without a single shred of decency, and often with a deliberate disregard for the slave’s wellbeing. This was the case partly as a method of controlling the slave population, and partly as a way of reconciling the practice of slavery itself with one’s own conscience.
This ideal is so far removed from what we consider acceptable treatment of human beings today, (and indeed for many generations), that it can be incredulous to watch any film that depicts events of that era.
12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup. Born a free man in Saratoga Springs in New York in 1808, he was kidnapped, renamed simply Platt, and sold into slavery in Washington in 1841.
After a dozen years of wrongful imprisonment he wrote a book about his experience.
John Ridley who wrote Three Kings with David O Russell has expanded Northup’s story for the screen and in the hands of English director Steve McQueen (Shame, Hunger) this is a harrowing vision of one man’s deprivation of liberty and his quest to keep his spirit intact. All the while never giving up on one day reclaiming his true identity.
It is also very much the story of the people of the time, in particular Platt’s final owner – Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who relishes his right to own people and hold power over them like a superior being.
Themes of religious principles as well as human decency and kindness are weaved through the story, as well as the ever-present tension of the slave-owners who are a just over a decade away from seeing an end to their evil ways.
The protection of slavery was more an issue of economics than a human rights consideration, and once enshrined in early American law, it flourished in the parts of the country that resisted a federal government controlling their interests.
It would take a four year civil war and the loss of over 600,000 lives to finally put an end to the disgusting inhumane brutality depicted in this film.
Solomon Northup endured 12 years of captivity, hard labor and psychological torture before he had a chance to reclaim his life as a free man with his family.
It’s hard to see this film not taking out many of it’s 9 thoroughly deserved Academy Award Nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role.
4 & ½ stars.