As far as I know, the enslavement of black people in the United States during the 19th century is one of the (if not the) most dehumanising occurrences in the history of mankind. Growing up, I had heard about it, read about it, been taught about it. But it’s weightiness never sank in until, believe it or not, I watched Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino. I know the film was not supposed to be some great homage to the sufferings of the black people. Indeed, there was a lot of emphasis on the action and humour of it. If I remember well, I came across an article where Mr Tarantino described it as a black western, or something along those lies. But watching that movie, for the first time, the stark reality of how utterly awful the whole debacle must have been really hit me. Which brings me to the topic of today: 12 Years a Slave.
On the train this morning, a newspaper was opened to a full page advert of 12 Years with four and five-star ratings scattered all over it on the table in front of me. I had heard of the movie when it was released in the festivals. I had even Wikipedia’d the story of Solomon Northup (whose story the film is based on). Looking at the newspaper, I thought, “This film must even be good, see stars all over it.” I got home later in the day, and my mum says she’s going to the movies to see 12 Years, and invites me to tag along. I decide to go, although I’m not sure I’m in the mood for the sadness, tears, and depression I expect the film will hold. I was not disappointed.
15 minutes into the film, I couldn’t eat my popcorn anymore (and let me tell you nothing stops me from eating my popcorn). It is appalling that such atrocities actually happened. You don’t get any more criminal against humanity than that. And some of these misdeeds were committed in the name of God Almighty. For me, the movie raised questions that I will probably never get the answers to in this lifetime. That it actually ever happened is unthinkable.
*spoilers from here on*
The victory of Solomon’s justice (being a freeman kidnapped into slavery, then regaining freedom after 12 years) is greatly overshadowed by the numerous other human beings that were legally slaves. That sadness eclipsed whatever joy I was supposed to feel over his release. At a point in movie, where Patsey was being flogged, I felt physically sick, I was so nauseated. At the end of the movie, when the credits came up, people in the cinema hall gave a round of applause. And I felt sick again. A round of applause? Really? Hadn’t they just watched they same thing I did? But I have calmed down now, and it has occurred to me that perhaps the applause was for a well-made movie. If it was for the eventual freedom of Solomon, I cannot share that joy. What is there to be happy about when hundreds of thousands more were condemned to the lives of animals? I mean, even animals weren’t treated that bad.
The movie itself was very well-done (not that I’m a film critic or anything). Lupita Nyong’o (Patsey) stole the show for me. Great ensemble cast (all-star cast) as well (ensemble casts seem to be in right now- August: Osage County, American Hustle, Out of the Furnace and co). There were points in the film that the English was a tad hard to follow, it was very King James-ish.
All in all, the slavery discourse is not one I can contribute much to. Just trying to read about it now has revealed the in-depth intricacies and complexities of the subject. I’m not sure if I should tell you to go see the movie, because if you’re like me, you will get very sad. It left me with a strong feeling of disquiet. On another hand, some guys got up all smiles in front of me, so it might not have been that bad. Either way, you should probably check it out; if only for an education on what life was like in those times. Also, you may want to read the original book by Solomon Northup, it shares the same title with the movie.