Monday, September 16, 2013

Nearly 400 Years in the Making: 12 Years a Slave

Is it historically accurate?  Yes.

Does Chiwetel Ejiofor deliver a first class performance?  Yes.

Is it a good great film?  Yes.

Does Steve McQueen direct the history as representative of the past, present, and future?  Yes.

Will it win an Oscar?  Yes.  And here’s why.

I was lucky enough to get invited to the final screening of 12 Years a Slave at the Toronto International Film Festival over the weekend at the Elgin Theatre with 1,499 other moviegoers/film buffs/hot-to-trotters and at least one Django Unchained loyalist (moi).

I wasn’t disappointed.

I thought about doing a brief synopsis as is the custom for movie reviews, then I realized there’s no point.  The movie is about slavery.  This ain't fiction.  It's history.  Period.  Fullstop.  Next question.

Ok, that description may be a little too simplistic.  Yes, the movie is based on Free man kidnapped into slavery in 1841, Solomon Northup and his 1853 book, Twelve Years a Slave.  It’s a winding tale of how “(un)free” it was for all Blacks in the United States even in the “free” Northern States.  And this was well before the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the Dred Scott Decision in 1857.
Black equaled slave.  Period.  Fullstop.  Next question.

Unlike Django, this movie will win Best Picture because it doesn’t make White audiences uncomfortable.  Yes, the word “nigger” is used throughout, but there isn’t the Tarantino shoot ‘em up violence epitomized with a Black hero winning and effectually becoming the first true Black superhero of the 21st century.

12 Years is a perfect combination of Glory, Lincoln, The Color Purple, and Django.

White people don’t have to question their own historical existence, but (women especially) are emotionally intertwined with Lupita Nyong’o’s character Patsey.

While Solomon’s narrative is tragic and Ejiofor’s performance carries the movie, Patsey’s story is horrific and Nyong'o's performance is haunting.

If someone is to win an Oscar, it should be Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress.  The scene where she begs Solomon to kill her because she can’t escape the sexual, emotional, mental, and psychological brutality suffered by millions of enslaved Black women throughout the Americas makes you realize that the penis cut deeper than the whip.  And the wounds inflicted by the former have yet to heal.

The White-Black female dynamic in slavery should be explored further in another movie.  On one hand you had White women (in this case the slave owner’s wife, Mary Epps) who many would argue were victims of the institution themselves.  On the other hand, you had Black women who were sexually exploited, victimized, and brutalized by male slave owners.  These men profited from their sexual deviance as they owned the production and reproduction of their female slaves.  The Black women subsequently faced the wrath of the slave owning wife because “he loved his Black slave and he didn’t love her.”

I could go on and on for days about this, but go and watch the movie when it’s released in October and see for yourself.  Better yet, pick up a book and read for yourself.  A good start (and short, it’s only 143 pages) on Black female exploitation is Melton A. McLaurin’s true story, Celia, A Slave.

“The sexual politics of slavery in the antebellum South are perhaps most clearly revealed by the fact that recorded cases of rape of female slaves are virtually non-existent.”   (Page 113.)

Makes you wonder how they’ve got so many light-skinned Black and dark-skinned White people in the US, eh?  Maybe that’s how Thomas Jefferson defined “freedom.”

See a link to the TIFF press conference here.


  1. "The penis cut deeper than the whip."

    That is a haunting line. Can't wait to see the movie with all the rest of the pedestrian folk.