One of the enduring problems which many countries can never change is
the mistakes which their ancestors made. The past is gone and cannot be undone. Conditions and environments that once prevailed are irretrievable but the lessons which are
able to be learnt from these mistakes mean a country can avoid
choosing the wrong future. In 12 Years a Slave, American and
Non-American audiences alike get to experience the traumatic, tragic
and humiliating life which slaves in the southern states were
Solomon Northup- who was a real person- was born a free man and lived
a comfortable life in New York with his wife and two children (three
in real life). He has a strong musical talent, particularly with the
fiddle. Director Steve McQueen chooses wide angle shots to elaborate
how prosperous life is without chains and bounds.
Just like the characters in Alex Haley’s outstanding novel Roots:The
Saga of an American Family, Northup’s entire life becomes a constant
battle and bite the bullet. Solomon Northup simply becomes Platt just
as Kunta Kinte’s name was changed to Toby.
Common similarities are also shared in the types of slave owners who come by. There’s the clean shaven, refined gentleman William Ford who is a kind hearted
man and one of high integrity. Compare this to the bearded, sun
battered ruthless Edwin Epps, who is happy to beat his slaves if they
are unable to pick 200 pounds of cotton a day.
A large proportion of the film brilliantly captures and portrays the horrendous treatment which black people endured whilst enslaved. Long, draining days underneath the sun, very limited food and water; not to mention the vicious beatings many were subjected to. As the film concludes in 1853, eight years before the American Civil War took place, many years would pass before slavery is outlawed altogether.
Rising star Chiwetel Ejiofor sends audiences through moments of triumph and despair in a telling performance as Northup. Other supporting cast members do a commendable job. One cannot underestimate the stellar job Lupita Nyong’o does as Patsey. Her acting allows audiences to process the emotional and mental confusion which comes with being in such an oppressed and awkward position. Her emphatic cry to her master as she holds up a bar of soap sums up everything; it’s a plea for recognition as a human being, not a piece of property.
I expected 12 Years a Slave to easily take out Best Picture, Best Actress in a supporting role and Best Director. As great as it was watching Gravity in 3D IMAX or No Country for Old Men on DVD, there is great warmth in the story of Solomon Northup’s story which far exceeds any movie experience I’ve had in recent years.