Twelve Years A Slave (15)

Directed by Steve McQueen
FACT, Liverpool
From 10th January 2014

Reviewed by Redskye

With the regular use of the word Nigger in the most brutal context I couldn't fail to be emotionally provoked by such a strongly driven film. Twelve Years A Slave is reminiscent of the classic 1970s TV series 'Roots' about slavery in America.

Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is living a very comfortable middle-class life, with fancy clothing for himself and family, carriage rides and social acceptance in one part of white society. Solomon is of African descent, a 'free' man in slavery free New York state in 1841 before the American civil war.

Solomon is lured away by some new acquaintances, with the promise of substantial income if he plays violin at social events in Washington. Having eaten in a very fancy restaurant, drunk copious amounts of alcohol to the point of being violently sick he wakes up the next morning in plain cotton rags and bound in chains, sold into slavery.
This is the beginning of Solomon's twelve years of living hell in Louisiana. He is downgraded to the status of Nigger and slave, told his new name is Platt and beaten viciously until he accepts it.

This is a challenging film to sit though, bringing into play class, the social divisions amongst slaves, slave owners, masters and overseers, with the constant brutality that touches everyone connected with plantation and cotton field exploitation.

There's the break up of families and the punishment beatings for not meeting the daily cotton picking targets. Slaves are forced to beat, abuse or ignore the sufferings of one another lest they face the same brutality themselves.

Forced to stand and wash naked regardless of gender, there are modern equivalents in living memory of almost everything shown in the film from Nazi concentration camps to the famous film of a Hiroshima survivor flat on his stomach with a red raw back. The red raw back belongs to field slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) who has been whipped raw, firstly by Platt with a gun held to his head and then by the plantation owner himself, Epps (Michael Fassbender), all because she went to get some soap.

This is a story of how humanity stamps upon one another, using the irrational belief of superiority for wealth and personal gain, of how absolute power over other people morally corrupts the wielder of the power, let alone brutally pulverising the recipients.

The film is an allegory of monumental suffering, barbarism and inhumanity, sheer injustice and the toleration and perpetuation of wrong doing. At one point the bible is used to justify the whipping of slaves.

As the credits rolled I alone clapped, for I felt this was a black man, film director Steve McQueen, driving home a serious matter using cotton fields and plantation slavery to grab our attention.

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Comment left by Mark on 18th January, 2014 at 12:38
Shades of things yet to come?