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.