Sunday, October 20, 2013

12 Years A Slave Review: The Black Schindler's List

Here's your Best Picture of 2013.

It’s over. It’s over and it’s not even close. I just saw the best film of the year. Director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave is easily, and I mean EASILY, the most powerful film I’ve EVER seen. EVER. Point plank and period. Few words can truly and accurately describe the emotions I felt sitting in that theater last night. Intense, soul crashing anger and rage at White people. Dumfounding confusion at the idea of a "God". How could a people be so loyal and praise a God so much while He lets them suffer so greatly? Overwhelming sorrow and pain for the Blacks that endured slavery. Gut-wrenching shame in my people because even when there were times when Blacks outnumbered whites, WHILE holding axes and knives no less, they did nothing to free themselves. 

Let’s get into the details. 12 Years A Slave is the true story of a Black man that was born free in the northern United States during the 1800s named Solomon Northup. After being lured to Washington D.C. under the promise of a job, Solomon is drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. Solomon workes as a slave on various plantations in the south before being freed 12 years later. (Thus the name.) Again, this is a TRUE story. All these events actually happened as the film is based on Solomon’s own memoir, for which the film shares it’s namesake.

I must first warn you by telling you that this film is very, very brutal and definitely uncomfortable to watch at times. As a Black male, I can tell you there were more than a few moments where I almost became physically ill. A few scenes even caused me to have involuntary "verbal" protests. You think Passion of Christ was a hard watch? There is a whipping scene that would make even David Duke (Leader of the Klu Klux Klan) turn away in horror and shame.

Films like Django Unchained are more satirical and cartoonish in their depiction of slavery. The true barbarity and malevolent nature of White people was far more abhorrent and 12 Years A Slave is unapologetically honest with its portrayal of the torture and debasing slaves endured. Scenes of Black men and women standing naked while White men poke and prod them like simple livestock aren’t violent, but the scene is just as unnerving and sickening to watch as bloodier ones. There's a scene where a woman pleads to be sold with her children but is still separated that is particularly difficult to watch. Especially when you remember all these things ACTUALLY happened.

Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor gives the most remarkable performance I’ve seen since Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. Like Day-Lewis, there is never a time where you feel as if you’re watching Ejifor “play” a character. He BECOMES Solomon Northup. Ejifor's performance is utterly mesmerizing as Solomon's fear and fight for survival is never forgotten for a single moment when Ejifor is on the screen. You have to remember that Solomon was a freeman. He had never encountered the horrors of slavery or the cruelty of White people. Solomon's reactions are that of a Black person from 2013 placed into a time machine and sent back to 1840. There are so many subtle, but impactful moments in Ejifor’s performance that I could honestly write a whole review on just his acting alone. Ejifor is the readon Michael B. Jordan won’t be winning Best Actor this year for his lead role in this summer’s excellent Fruitvale Station.

Paul Giamatti and Michael Fassbender play two of the most unlikeable villains I've ever seen in a movie. Both make Leonard Dicaprio’s Calvin Candie look like Mother Teresa. Although Giamatti isn’t in the film very long his screen time is still meaningful and effective. However, Fassbender is really the other standout of the film besides Ejifor. He plays an evil plantation owner who uses and twists religious scripture to justify his acts of inhumanity. I’m never going to be as comfortable watching Fassbender ever again and I've had to remind myself that he was just "acting" several times since the film ended. Yes, his performance was that good.

Sarah Paulson does fine work as Fassbender’s equally cruel wife and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is very impressive as the eyes of “masters” desires as she plays a slave girl named Patsey. Whenever Nyong'o's on the screen she dominates it. Brad Pitt, Paul Dano and Alfre Woodard all turn in fine supporting performances also. Oscar nods will be given to most, as well as to most of the talent behind the camera. McQueen perfectly paces and explores a difficult subject matter with such ease you'd think he's lived through slavery himself. While cinematographer Sean Bobbit's captures the beauty of those grand ole southern plantations, while never shying from showing us, in explicit detail, the unspeakable evil that lurked their grounds.

There are so many moments and things I want to say about this film but I can't. You’d be here all day and so would I. If you’re a White person and you’ve ever wondered why Black men always seem to have a chip on their shoulder, THIS is why. If you've wondered why educated Black men work hard but seem to have an underlining sense of urgency in their actions while still holding a deep anger inside? This is WHY. Why Black people always make EVERYTHING about their race? This is why. This is why the world has so many "Angry Black Man". Even though there isn't a person living that was responsible for the tragedy of slavery, and of course I didn't live this, that doesn't make me and many other African-Americans any less angry about it. If your skin isn’t Black you DON’T UNDERSTAND it and that’s okay.

This film should be seen by everyone, but it absolutely MUST be seen by ALL African-Americans. Specifically African-Americans that weren't conscious adults in the 1960's and 1970's or earlier. Most African-Americans seem to forget what happened in this country so long ago. Most of us seem to think that we’ve always been free to go and learn and work and do as we please. This film acts as a huge reminder of what it use to mean to be Black in this country. And even if I weren’t a Black man I’d say this is the best picture of the year. What Saving Private Ryan is to a World War II vet or what Schindler's List is to a Jewish person, 12 Years A Slave is like that to African-Americans. Like those films, 12 Years A Slave is a hauntingly authentic illustration of a historical event that CAN'T be truly felt without a personal connection to the characters or source material. All who see it will be affected but ONLY a Black person can truly understand the pain that's on the screen and that’s fine.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! Now I'm super amped to check this film out!