I hope I don’t make enemies through this blog, though it’s a possibility. I went to see 12 Years a Slave (2013) yesterday to continue on this road to the Oscars with high expectations. Almost everyone I have spoken to, general audiences and film scholars alike, have bragged about this film. I’m learning to stop prodding for reviews because high praise usually ruins the film for me and I believe it happened again. Again, I am a white female and perhaps that skews my viewing experience and I do not want to undermine the experience of slaves before and after the Civil War. The truth is… I’m not impressed. 12 Years a Slave was a good movie. 12 Years a Slave was not a great movie.
In case you haven’t seen it, the film follows a man named Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free African-American man in 1841, who was a victim of kidnapping and shipped to be a slave in the South for 12 years. There are no spoilers and that sums up the film. I’m assuming you can guess the ending, as well. There are many brutal scenes involving beatings, rape, and hangings. I’m pinpointing the reason the movie is receiving such acclaim is due to the poignant “realism” present and the inclusion of Scripture to show the reasoning behind slave owner’s treatment of the slaves. My problem? The South was unforgivably horrible to slaves, but I’ve known this since I learned Civil Rights in elementary school. I know their conditions were brutal and maybe my textbook shielded the rape involved in slave owning, but the rest has been present since I can remember. How is this film different from our previous knowledge on the matter? How does it change our perspective? The film almost takes the slant that because Solomon was an official “free” and “learned” man, that this is somehow a greater injustice. But is it? They should have all been free individuals in the first place.
In addition to the film’s content, I was not impressed by the cinematography or directing like Life of Pi (2012). And, frankly, I was not overly impacted by the acting. I really hope my apathy toward this film doesn’t mean my conscious is seared, but I’ve seen better films on the subject matter. I’ve seen better mini-series about slavery (Roots, anyone? And that was the 70s!). I left feeling unresponsive, disgusted by the past, yet confused as to why this film has been nominated for everything. I still thought the film was good, but Oscar-worthy? Not in my opinion.
Coming up next on our journey… Nebraska!