The Importance of 12 Years a Slave

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“Days ago I was with my family in my home. Now you tell me all is lost, tell no one who I am and that’s the way to survive. I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”

12 Years a Slave has only been in theaters a couple weeks, but critics who applaud or shun the film are both left with a common reaction when the credits rolled—stunned.

Since winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, the positive response to the film has since been met with criticism and dissatisfaction toward the gruesomely realistic glimpse at the antebellum South. The film tells the true story of Solomon Northup (British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in New York, who is kidnapped in 1841 and sold down the river to the owner of a cotton plantation in Louisiana. Many people are asking if we really need another slave movie?

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But that’s exactly what it’s not. Director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years is not intended to re-expose the weakness of black culture’s roots nor is it intended to re-slap America on the hand bestowing another moral hangover. The argument “haven’t I seen this before?” is surfacing across the Internet, but the gravity of McQueen’s exposure of slavery as an economic necessity and the concept of slaves as property resonates far greater than any pre-Civil War period piece.

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