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'12 Years a Slave' is a painfully magnificent film

November 21, 2013

By Daniel Herda

British director Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” stars Chitweter Ejiofor as violinist Solomon Northup, who was a free man from New York City sold into slavery while on a performance trip to Washington DC.

“12 Years a Slave” successfully brought profound intensity without the constant use of a musical score, leaving the viewer to connect to Northup through his human suffering rather than using instruments to tell the audience how to feel.

The film was taken from a biography Northup wrote about his experiences.

When the biography was first released over 30,000 copies were sold.

Northup’s story was forgotten for many years until McQueen brought Northup’s journey back to the public’s attention with his film “12 Years a Slave.”

The scenes felt like they were acted on the stage of a play, with dialogue exchanged between the actors driving the plot forward rather than quick camera cuts or action sequences to control the emotions of the viewers.

The loss of a child, parent, wife or husband is all explored in the film.

It was often the case that families would be separated when sold into slavery.

“You’ll forget your children eventually,” is a line spoken to a mother torn from her son and daughter in the film.

One of the main themes of the film is the idea that these enslaved characters must forget their cherished memories and move on with their lives of servitude.

Northup’s acceptance of his transition from a free man to breathing property was difficult to watch, as he kept quiet and followed orders so he could live to see his wife and children again.

One of the greatest achievements of the film is its ability to be mundane, showing established social order between slavery and their masters as a way of life rather than a dramatic soap opera.

“12 Years a Slave” lets the audience see these immoral acts within the background of daylight and green-growing grass, illuminating the truth that people were treated brutally while nature appeared beautifully.

Revolution, hope, and freedom are vaguely discussed in the film, which highlights the realism of the film because slavery was a hopeless experience for the people in shackles, which shows us how far we have come since those harsh times.

Slavery was a way of life for those in captivity as well as a way of life for the captors, which is a terribly sad theme that makes the viewer think about the unruly hierarchy of social order and the animosity of seeing oneself as better than another.

One can only think about how morality was abandoned as these masters constantly refer to people as property, with some of the masters confused and unable to understand that the people they controlled were actually men, women and children.

The film was brought up in Dr. George Ray’s interracial communication class, where Ray explained why “12 Years a Slave” was very different than other films depicting the same subject manner.

Ray said the film was very authentic in showing the harsh realities of slavery unlike many other films of the past.

John Ridley, “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter and the only American crewmember, spoke to PBS about his thoughts on the film and past movies about slavery.

“I think that because, here in Hollywood, we have done a really poor job of representing the facts of slavery,” said Ridley. “This was a full system of human subjugation.”

After watching this film, one can only be thankful that these harsh times are behind us and that the freedom we have is the most sacred gift ever bestowed upon us.