Plot – In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
Director – Steve McQueen
Released – 2013
You have to be prepared to go on an emotional rollercoaster when watching McQueen’s poignant Academy Award-winning 12 Years A Slave, adapted from the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped from the North and is sold into slavery for 12 years in the southern United States.
This is not an easy film to experience, but an important one none the less, with the viewer being exposed to many sadistic acts of violence and torture. Only showing a small amount of the inhumane conditions that Black people were subjected too in America’s scarred and reprehensible past. Unlike say Django Unchained, here the brutality seen in 12 Years A Slave doesn’t feel unwarranted or gratuitous, similar in tone to Steven Spielberg’s Amistad, it’s not used as a tool to produce shock value stunt, but rather as a way of chronicling the brutal reality of happened to Solomon and how it affected him and those around him.
For Solomon’s story to be successfully told, you need someone who is truly able to bring him to life and give a voice to the suffering he endured. Ejiofor proved himself to be someone that was able to do this and excelled at it. His use of body language and facial expressions to help showcase how the events changed him, including the subtle changes to his posture and demeanour as his loss of hope and helplessness grow, to the point where it feels as though you are witnessing a completely different person to the one you originally met.
Conflict in films is only successful when you have a believable antagonist and although there are many reprehensible persons that show-up throughout Solomon’s life, it’s Epps (Fassbinder) that was shown to be the worst, revelling in his ability to break a Black person spirit. Fassbinder was riveting in this role and made you hate Epps with a passion, due not only to him being a slave owner but also the glee he received from sexual depravity and relentless evil shown towards the people he kept prisoner.
Of all the stellar performances, it’s neither of the leading men that are the standout, but that of Nyong’o as the abused slave, Patsey. She brought a raw emotion to the role and helped the audience see just hint of the suffering female slaves had to endure, including multiple rapes, beatings and being whipped to within an inch of her life. The fact she won an Academy Award for this film is of no surprise and fully deserved.
It’s clear to see that bringing this story to life was a passion for director McQueen, producing one of the most haunting and merciless history lesson for all of the world to see. Knowing exactly when and howling for, to show the inhumane sites including lynching and other various tortures. Holding a mirror up to the audience and forcing them to watch until it becomes unbearable, especially the sequence involving the merciless whipping of Patsey, possibly the most gentile would in the entire film.
12 Years A Slave is a brutal and provocative look at the events that have scarred American history and caused unknown levels of hurt and anger, but also a film about hope and a persons ability to survive even the most difficult of situations.