Imagine for a minute that you’re walking down the street, you’re not doing anything special just getting some groceries, or cigarettes or maybe you’re just taking a walk around the block. Now imagine being offered a job by two people you’ve never met, but the money is good and you have nothing better to do for the time they need you, so you get in a car or on a train with them to your new job. Now try to picture waking up the next morning shackled to a wall with no idea of where you are. If you’ve gotten this far, then you have some idea of what Solomon Northup felt like when he woke up in Washington D.C. shackled to a wall in 1841.
This is the story of “12 Years a Slave” Steve McQueen’s epic film based on the real life story of Solomon Northup a brilliant violinist and his incredible journey from being a free man in Saratoga, New York to being kidnapped and traded into slavery for 12 years. And I’m about to tell you why it’s essential that you must see it.
I find it interesting that this film comes out a year after Tarantino’s 2011 western revenge film “Django Unchained” (one of my personal favorite films), which showed abuse of slavery well, though it was overshadowed by Django getting justice against those that had imprisoned him and his wife. One thing that these films have in common is how little McQueen cares about making his audience cringe. In fact I would say he wanted his audience to be made thoroughly uncomfortable, and I think it improved the film. He holds absolutely nothing back and forces everyone to face the reality of what slavery was in 1841, only 172 ago.
What McQueen does best is show how dehumanized black people were made to feel during this time we were made to feel as less than animals, we were essentially property for our Masters to do with as they pleased and once you were in there was no way out of it shy of death. He also shows just how impossible it was to stand up to the Masters since everything stood against you. Northup loses everything when he gets enslaved one of the most important things aside from his freedom is his name, he loses the name his father gave him and simply becomes Platt. McQueen captures the way that the slave trade breaks its victims and how Solomon must humble and lower himself in every way possible if he wants to survive.
There are plenty of black men and women who would argue that they would never allow themselves to be treated like Solomon was in this film, but the truth is the idea of standing up to your masters would lead to only two results. The first would be the worst possible beating of your life with a whip or worse, and the second would be death. The Masters of their plantations knew that if their slaves were educated and strong they would no longer be able to beat them into the submission that they wanted, so the best thing for them to do was to destroy them.
To be honest, I knew this film would be brilliant. I’ve been a huge fan or Chiwetel Ejiofor since his film “Dirty Pretty Things” (if you ever get the chance watch it) and I also love Michael Fassbender, though this movie makes it difficult to, but I didn’t want to see this film. I knew it would be depressing and brutal and painful to watch, but my mother saw it and told me I had to. I’m sure few of you have ever refused a request from your mother so I bought a ticket and saw it. And it was difficult to watch, and honest the way I knew it would be, but the performances, the music, the cinematography and the directing made it completely worth it.
So I say yes, see this film. It’s not “pleasant” to watch, but it is rewarding and uplifting and you might cry. But it also shows the kind of people we are. It shows that we are some of the strongest persevering people in existence, we have endured so much and we should not forget what happened to us in our past, to do so would be an insult to our ancestors like Solomon Northup who fought and survived so we could.
So please, see this film.