Director Steve McQueen has created an inspiring depiction of slavery in the film, “12 Years a Slave.” The film is based around the true story of events of a freeman, Solomon Northup, who is tricked into slavery by two circus recruiters. While traveling to Wash., the recruiters drug Northup and upon waking he finds himself chained to the floor and unable to prove his freed status. This marks the beginning of a 12-year journey for Northup in which he fights to hopefully one-day return to his life of freedom with his family.
Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, displays the true essence of perseverance. Soon after his capture, Northup learns that in order to survive, he must hide his knowledge of reading and writing and not appear smarter than his new found masters.
What captures the story most is the eyes of Ejiofor. The brutal abuse and sexual encounters encapsulated by the sweet notions of southern flare of white columned mansions and tea parties shown through the lenses of Northup take the viewers on a journey inside the accounts of the enslaved workers.
This film arrives after a year of films such as Lee Daniels, “The Butler” and Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” which also displayed the hardships faced by African Americans throughout history. However, “12 Years a Slave,” remains true to its purpose of displaying servitude and abuse during a time of social indifference for African Americans whereas these movies reference a more comedic style to engage the audience in its historical storyline.
McQueen remains true to the crux of the time period. During the film there is a sense of reality felt as you saw a multitude of nudity as the slaves are auctioned off and beaten. McQueen doesn’t censor the brutal treatment of the slaves. More traumatizing than the skin splitting whippings is the breath stealing scene where for hours, Northup is hoisted with a noose around his neck and holding on to his life by his toes. This moment within the film shows a transition within the character in which viewers realize Northup is willing to fight.
During the film Northup encounters a multitude of slavers to which if it weren’t for their own demons, it appear that his mind and ethic would be accepted. In the end, Northup was free to return home to a family that had remained throughout his 12-year captivity. The spirit of Northup’s fight is everlasting and gives hope to the notion that ultimately as an American “the truth will set you free.”
This thought provoking film lightens the stigma associated with slavery and makes it an easier topic to bear. By the end of the movie, the hearts of viewers will have softened for the lives of the enslaved and as the seats begin to empty, the compelling story of overcoming oppression will be told once again shedding light to a dark period of history.
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