12 Years a Slave – Don’t Mind Me if I Close My Eyes…

Warning: Spoilers for the movie 12 Years a Slave in this post.

I watched 12 Years a Slave the other night. It was well made and acted and I completely understand all the praise that has been aimed at it. However, I doubt I’ll ever be able to watch this movie again.

Not only were there a couple of scenes that I couldn’t stomach because of the brutality, but if I’m being honest, I can’t deal with the requisite bleakness that was part of the reality of that time.

The movie is about the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free black man who lives in New York with his family. He’s a carpenter and a violinist who is kidnapped while in Washington and sold into slavery. It goes from bad to worse.

We know in the beginning that Solomon won’t be able to convince anyone his kidnapping was a mistake (it is called 12 years a slave). Knowing his initial protests, that he’s not a slave but actually free, are moot is hard to take in. And that’s just the beginning. If you think about it, there really is nothing to be happy about by the time the film credits roll:

– Yes, the truth of Solomon’s situation comes to light and he is able to go back home but he lost 12 years of his life, 12 years of his children growing up into adults without their father around and his wife forever wondering what happened to her husband. Even though a wrong was righted, Solomon would never be able to regain that lost time or erase those 12 years of memories as a slave and all the pain that came with it.

– Just because he went home doesn’t mean that slavery magically ended. The reality of those he “worked” with in the fields was unchanged.

– According to the text at the end, his kidnappers were never brought to justice because as a black man, Solomon wasn’t allowed to bring charges against those who are white. Ah, to be free!

I wish the movie delved a bit into the life that Solomon Northrup had before his kidnapping. Part of the text in the end said that after his ordeal, Solomon helped slaves run away through the Underground Railroad. I’m curious then as to what his politics were before the kidnapping and how he felt about the situation in the South. It wouldn’t change how horrid his experience was or that it shouldn’t have happened in the first place but I’m wondering if the ordeal shocked him out of complacency, enabling him to help out a number of people.

12 Years a Slave is a good movie but man oh man, did the movie make feel uncomfortable. As someone who identifies as “American” (along with the other things that are part of my hyphenated life), it was hard to be confronted with the story of Solomon Northrup without feeling a sense of shame about a history that will forever be connected with this country and still has ramifications to this day.

11 thoughts

  1. I definitely need to see this. You bring up some great points. Maybe though, life as a Northern “Free” Black man might be similar to the life of Black people up until the late 60’s and early 70’s as they fought for equality. It might be similar to the way some communities still live in the South. Probably not nearly as compelling/fantastic (in the making of a Hollywood story that is) of a story as the life of a slave might be.

    1. Maybe there is a movie out there about someone like Solomon if he hadn’t been sold into slavery! It’s so hard to picture how someone’s life was back then – I definitely need to do more reading- I think all the stuff that was part of the high school curriculum isn’t enough for us to get educated about the lives of all the different kind of people that coexisted back then.

  2. Salaam Bushra – (This is the former @AmericanBrother) –

    I’m just going to post what I wrote on Facebook after I saw the movie below – but what I will say, indeed it was a tough film to watch but as you said, was brilliant. I saw it with my Amma, and she was already regretting it at the opening scene….as for the shameful feeling – yes, we are American, but I have to admit, I don’t feel as bad as Caucasians should – it wasn’t our ancestors who did this, not to take away from the dark history of Muslims – but that’s a whole ‘nother story. But yes, I think more young Americans need to be aware of the past – and as you said and others after seeing this film – it provides a lesson for our current issues.

    Anyways, what I wrote just after seeing this film:
    Just saw 12 Years A Slave (with mom, who was already feeling depressed at the opening scene) – a very difficulty film to watch, but nonetheless, one that I think everyone should go see. Not only does it remind us of the ugly history of our nation, of humanity, but also shows us that while we have come a long way, the ills that plague us today, are not too far from the tragedy and horror that was slavery. This is not only reflected in the continued struggle we make against the very issue of race relations, but of how we use superficial things to make others feel inferior – this is present across culture, religion and society. I hope the youth especially, as they are the future of our country see this film and reflect – we have a long way to go to truly become civilized.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts! I totally agree with your FB comments on it and I appreciate you posting it here.

      Can’t imagine seeing this with my mom though – definitely would’ve been uncomfortable!

      1. No problem. Well, it can’t be as bad as seeing Wolf Of Wallstreet sitting next to one of my family friend aunties lol. But may I ask why it would be uncomfortable with your mom? I mean, no “love” scenes per se…i mean it’s an uncomfortable movie as it is with the subject matter…though, maybe not for us brown folks as much, but you know what I mean.

          1. Oh ok. Understandable. Well, sometimes it’s awkward since it’s just me and my Amma and I often half-joke that the films she wants to see with me are rated R lol and that I should rather see them with my cousins here or just on my own if at all. But at the same time, we are both mature people, and we know how the industry works. But at least this movie’s scenes were not ones that were just there for shock or unnecessary, as is the case in many others.

            (I think i’ll use my name rather than my twitter handle when commenting from now on lol).

  3. Asalaamu alaykum

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