Yesterday I had the opportunity to see the movie “12 Years a Slave.” I had first learned of the controversial film while at the theater to see “The Butler.” The trailer for “12 Years a Slave” immediately caught my attention. The notion that a free man is kidnapped and held captive for 12 years was unimaginable and terrifying. I wanted to know who this man was and if he escapes and how he endures such an atrocity. When Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Solomon, the man kidnapped and enslaved, appeared on screen, I knew I had to see this film. I loved him in “Talk to Me” and “Inside Man.”
Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I love going to the movies. My husband isn’t as fond of movie-going as I am and oftentimes he has to be persuaded and I have to endure a barrage of questions. “What kind of movie is it?” “How do you know it’s good?” “Who told you it’s good.” “Who’s in it?” To spare myself the third degree, sometimes I’ll skip asking him to go with me, and I’ll see the movie I want to see by myself. But this time I wanted him to go because I felt it would be a great film to see together and to discuss afterwards. So off to the movies we went.
Like a little girl, I was buoyant and excited about getting my popcorn, hotdog, peanut MM’s and diet coke! I couldn’t wait to sit back in my seat in the dark and be enlightened, educated, and perhaps entertained. I didn’t know a lot about “12 Years a Slave,” I just knew it had A-list actors and it was an interesting subject. I figured there would be what you normally see in movies about slavery, but what I hadn’t counted on was the abject brutality in this film.
The movie starts out fairly innocuous, but there is this undercurrent of tension because you know this man is going to end up a slave. How and when, you don’t know. That kept me on the edge of my seat. He has a lovely wife and two children. His life is idyllic. He seems well off. He’s an anomaly for the times. Then one day he’s approached by two men to provide music for their circus act. The next time we see him he’s having dinner with these two chaps expressing his gratitude for their generosity. When one of the men pours him more wine and they toast, I notice an evil glint in the man's eye and in that moment I knew they were drugging him. To my chagrin, I’m right. Solomon is no longer dressed in his fancy attire having a splendid dinner with the men who betray him but now chained in a dungeon in our nation’s capital. “You’re not a free man. You’re a slave from Georgia,” he’s told by the men who have taken away his freedom. From there he’s sent down south where he ends up on two different plantations. He endures unspeakable brutality and witnesses other men, women and children endure horrific violence.
Needless to say I cried, gritted my teeth, gasped, shrieked, got pissed off, wanted to walk out, all throughout.The most difficult scene was the beating of a young female slave named Patsy. She was beaten until her flesh was exposed. The second most grueling scene was one in which Solomon was hung by a rope while he kept himself alive by dipping the tips of his shoes in mud. This scene went from day to night. It was interminable and what could have been a poignant revelation about the horrors of the slave trade became ghoulish and caused me to no longer have bitterness toward the slave owner but the filmmaker. We get it…I get it…Whatever happened to less is more. The violence and brutality is unrelenting. It was just too much for me. I guess the director Steve McQueen accomplished what he wanted. He created a film so real you felt like you were there. Yes, I was a Slave for 133 minutes—the length of the film and I hated every minute of it!