12 Years a Slave

I went to see the movie.  If you want to see it and haven’t you should stop reading this blog right now because I plan to discuss, in detail some things from the movie.  If I can.  First I want to say how I ended up going to the movie in the first place.  The Upperman African-American Cultural Center On the Campus of UNCW (where I live and go to school) made tickets available for students.  I’d seen the trailer and heard the opinions of several of my friends and colleagues who have seen it.  The tickets were at the Mayfaire Town  Center theater.  Mayfaire is the hub of white consumerism.  I don’t go there.  I prefer to shop in places where I’m not followed around or looked at condescendingly or suspiciously (which I admit are not many places but that’s another story [or is it?]) I don’t know why I had never heard of Solomon Northup before. ( His book was written in the 1850’s).  I had heard stories of free men and women being sold into slavery but in my naivete just couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that this situation couldn’t be easily corrected.  Solomon Northup was tricked by two white men whom he thought he could trust and sold into slavery.  He remained in bondage for 12 years and was eventually reunited with his family.  That’s just the bare bones of it.  The movie, grabs you from the very beginning  there is no lengthy build up to the tragedy.  This movie tells a story for hundreds of thousands (millions?) of nameless, faceless voiceless victims in a way that we have yet to see in American media.  There was very little music in the movie which I think was appropriate.  There was just no room for it.  The story was raw and painful and having superfluous melody in the background would’ve been a sensory affront. The acting in this movie was superb. Chiwetel Ejiofor deserves every accolade, nomination and kudos that he will surely get because of his performance.  He brought Solomon Northup’s story to life with depth and, I believe sensitivity to the importance of authenticity of emotion.His eyes were a character themselves.  Every character,  was multi-dimensional.  There were so many themes running through this movie that I am up this time of night because I couldn’t sleep after having seen it. (I went to the 3:20pm show).  Aside from the obvious, that the American slave trade was a heinous, dehumanizing institution for the slaver and the enslaved, there were many others.  As a woman it was immediately obvious to me how women, because of our gender are always the most powerless in situations where power can be wielded.  To have no control over one’s body in the most intimate and vulnerable way is dehumanizing in itself.  The character Patsey, picking upwards of 200 lbs of cotton a day yet unable to defend herself against the master’s sexual demands.  The mistress blaming her for her husband’s lust and heaping more abuse on her.  No one to stand up for her for fear of losing their own lives. These two women locked in a battle that neither can win because neither has the power. Though the mistress, having a modicum of power wields it against one who has even less than herself.  Even today we see the battle that is fought between women of color and white women.  White women, held up as the standard of beauty, oblivious (for the most part) to the plight and pain of the other women around them. Then there is the theme of religion being used to subdue and subordinate.  There are several scenes in the movie where the slave masters stand before the slaves and read (out of context) portions of the bible about being “whipped with many stripes”.  Man has for generations no doubt centuries, used the word out of context to suit their own purposes.  A theme that still holds today.  The most poignant moment in the movie to me was the moment when Solomon was hung from a tree, his feet barely touching the ground and the overseer sends someone to fetch the master.  While Solomon (aka Platt) hung from a try the other slaves went on with their chores.  The Mistress watched from the porch and then turned away.  The kids played, oblivious to what was going on around them.  This reminded me so much of what is going on in our society today.  The black man is lynched, (or shot down in the rain with a tea and skittles, or shot while trying to get help after or car accident) the white people, even though they know it is wrong and maybe even feel compassion, turn away because to acknowledge it is to acknowledge that the system that they live by, that brings them health wealth and happiness, is exploiting, damaging and disenfranchising the ones who make their comfort possible.  The overseer (officer) stands by waiting for the black man who is being emasculated to make a move so that he can “put him out of his misery” by ending his life.  The other thing was that this educated man had to dumb down in order to stay alive.  He couldn’t let anyone know that he could read and write.  And so he played the role. He maintained his dignity and his humanity when he was being treated like an animal. Regardless of how we are treated we don’t respond in kind.   Have you ever wondered why white people feel so threatened by black people?  
This movie was  gruesome, it was hard to watch.  At times I wanted to cry but I would not allow myself to.  Not even when the lash cut into Patsey’s back and you could see  misty blood spatters floating on the breeze. It was a good movie.    I don’t know if I will ever be the same.  But I wonder if it will make a difference?
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~ by Diva2de on November 19, 2013.

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