Film Review: “12 Years a Slave”

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At the beginning of the film “12 Years a Slave” [based on a true story] we meet Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as a free man. He has a wife and children. It is the mid-1800s. They live in Saratoga Springs, New York. He is a respected man in his community, predominantly white, and a talented violinist who performs.

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It is his talent that leads him into the trap created by two white men who lure him away from the safety of his home with the promise of joining them in performances in other grander locations, specifically in Washington, D.C.. He trusts them. They are performers themselves. There doesn’t appear to be any reason not to go with them, until he wakes up in a bare room, his wrists and ankles chained and attached to something solid that holds him secure from escaping. This is the beginning of his true nightmare.

Two white men enter the room claiming he is not a free man but an escaped slave from Georgia. He denies their accusations but when asked where are his papers, he cannot produce them. Freedom is gone and the beatings begin.

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He is transported to a location where he is sold to the white man Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). The scene is soul crushing. A woman is torn from her two children. Solomon is smashed in the face by Freeman (Paul Giamatti) for trying to correct his name. He called him Platt. It made no difference, if you were a slave you had no rights to speak freely, move freely, question any white man or woman, the slave was there to obey or be punished, in most situations, severely. Being hanged was not uncommon for no offence at all.

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The horrors Solomon and the other slaves brings to mind that of Human Trafficking today. A different group of people but freedom is taken away. Freedom had been abolished with the slaves of the South and replaced with total obedience with the threat of the crack of the whip. It tore the flesh and produced groves in the flesh like fault lines laid open. In one scene, the whipping was so severe, blood gushed as each stroke came down hard on the slave barely enduring the punishment.

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One slave owner was actually kind to Solomon and returned something special to him. But Solomon’s unfortunate circumstances did not allow him to choose where he remained as a slave. His next location was that owned by Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). He was a crazy, cruel, God possessing Master from Hell. He thought nothing of punishing ‘his’ slaves for no offense at all or for the craziest, insane reasons. He said, the slaves were his property and he could do whatever he wanted to his property.

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Watching “12 Years a Slave” was an out of body experience. It didn’t feel real. It felt ethereal. It also gave me an odd reaction. The film is focused primarily on one man regaining his status as a ‘Free Man.’ The rest of the characters played around this intention. The white hats, those who were slaves and those who felt slavery was wrong. The black hats, those who punished severely any disobedience or punished slaves because they had the right to. After all, they were just property and held no humanity for those who actually lacked the humanity, the slave owners themselves.

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Solomon was an educated man who could read and write but this would have gotten him killed if any slave owner discovered this secret. The majority of white people in the South were the slaves’ jailers. There was no escape except death. Being a slave was like a prison sentence that would never end. For Solomon, it was so far away. He needed help but where would he find it.

Steve McQueen, the director, created a smoothly made film. The pieces fit together. Being a true story, there was no redirection of how Solomon’s life unfolded. The performances were brilliant. The adaptation of the book into an amazing screenplay was just one more piece that brought a perfection to the film.

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Slavery existing in the United States is a shameful part of our history. The fact that though we do not have slavery today, we still have a society that cannot and seems it will not let go of the differences between people. Black men keep getting killed by the police who create the bogus excuse, they feared for their lives. How about what the black man feels when being pursued by one of these mentally challenged cops who seem to me, want them dead. The cops just hide behind the badge instead of the white hoods and robes. The prejudice is alive and if a black man does not obey, he is punished by his own death. It is there in the news on a too regular basis and it needs to stop. It may not be called slavery but it sure looks like it when a black man is killed for standing up for his legal rights under the law.

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More films need to be made to tell the story of the history of slavery and its aftermath. It has minimally improved. Not until the murders of the black man by the police, who represent the law, stop, we will not be able to let go of racism, and the memory of slavery will continue to remain forefront in all our minds.

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Everyone says that “12 Years a Slave” is hard to watch. It should be, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from viewing this important film, filled with the echoes of the history of our past. We need to know the past to correct their mistakes and create a more rational society that is filled up with humanity and we live under the freedom of equality for all.

“12 Years a Slave” is an excellent film. I highly recommend it and give it 5***** out of 5.

Be sure to catch at the closing of the film notes about the rest of Solomon Northup’s life.

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12 Years a Slave – Official Movie Trailer HD

Rating: R (for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality)
Genre: Drama, History
Directed By: Steve McQueen (III)
Written By: John Ridley
On DVD: Mar 4, 2014
Runtime: 2h 14m
Fox Searchlight

Cast:
Chiwetel Ejiofor…….as Solomon Northup
Lupita Nyongo’o…….as Patsey
Benedict Cumberbatch…….as Ford
Michael Fassbender…….as Edwin Epps
Sarah Paulson…….as Mistress Epps
Brad Pitt…….as Bass
Paul Giamatti…….as Freeman
Paul Dano…….as Tibeats
Alfre Woodard…….as Mistress Shaw

[For a more extensive cast go to IMdB.com]

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Words. Ideas. Visions. Sounds. Abstractions. Attract the Writer. Poet. Artist Inside of Me. Seeking Out the Unknown & Infinite Possibilities & Impossibilities. Living My Life Filled with Imagination & Creativity. Zen – j.kiley
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