Updated: Jul 7
An artist who uses cinema for its noblest purposes: to uplift, educate, and eventually ennoble the spectator by presenting them with something visceral, authentic, and electrifyingly "real."
12 Years a Slave is one of the greatest films on American slavery ever created.
British director Steve McQueen has succeeded in capturing the agony of slavery on film in every moment.
It's based on Solomon Northup's memoir from 1853.
It's the story of someone who had no idea who he was and had no idea what slavery was until he was picked up.
This is the narrative of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free citizen of the United States who lived a regular life with his wife and children in New York.
The year is 1841, some years before the Civil War, and Solomon is recognized as an outstanding violinist.
Solomon's captors remove his name, and his enslavers attempt to destroy his identity.
He is warned not to reveal to his fellow slaves, for example, that he can read and write since this would invite further abuse or to reiterate his free status in the unfriendly south.
His masters can live with his violin playing as an added gift.
As Solomon, now known as Platt, is sold, then bought by his first owner, Ford (Cumberbatch), then his second, Epps (Fassbender), or rented to a third, the film encapsulates all that might happen to someone who was considered a commodity "to be done to as pleased" by his master back then.
In one excruciating scene, slaves are lined up in various states of nakedness to demonstrate their health and goods, a kid is instructed to hop to demonstrate his strength, a woman is removed screaming from her children, who are sold separately, and all are forced to bathe together and in public.
Lashings are prevalent, and sexual assault is common among women.
Ford is one of the nicer masters in that he respects Platt's thoughts, but he, too, dismisses the widow weeping for her children.
He rescues Platt from hanging but hands him over to a master who, he admits, is unlikely to treat him kindly.
That's Epps, or Fassbender, who revels in the role of a master more anxious to assert his dominance over his slaves, including Patsy (Nyong'o), whom he develops feelings for.
She is gorgeous, a diligent worker, and a defenseless girl whom he rapes practically against himself while allowing his jealous wife to torment her.
He follows her openly while drunk and whips her close to death.
Patsy approaches Platt one night and requests that he murder her.
Another scene of nearly excruciating agony, especially as Platt turns her back and Patsy screams into the night.
As Solomon Northup/Pratt, Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a magnificent performance. He embodies for us all the love of freedom and the insatiable desire to come home.
The suppression of Solomon's rage is essential to his survival – he must feign illiteracy and subservience to survive – and it's worth noting that, for all the anger and shame that the film evokes about recent history, McQueen remains exceptionally even-handed and controlled in his treatment of all the key players, black and white.
This somber film speaks to people's hearts and assists us in starting the inner process of acknowledging the shadow of racism and slavery! 12 Years a Slave is a film that scorched our souls and left us speechless in the face of such ruthless violence.
It forces us to address the poisons of racism that have been so pervasive in our psyches and histories.
In their penetrating picture of slavery and its warped prejudice and unremitting cruelties, McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley refuse to let us off the hook.
The film is powerful, with superb performances.
Ejiofor is the film's evocative heart, while Fassbender is terrifyingly brilliant as heartless Epps, who is reinforced by Paulson as his sour, shrewd wife.
Patsy's plight is brought to life by Nyong'o.
In addition, the sound design is excellent, conveying the ceaseless march of the waves propelling slave boats and the wind groaning through plantation trees.
Deep focus shots reveal how the luxurious life of the American South, with its mansions and masquerades, tea parties, and dresses, was built on breaking the backs of captive blacks.
Along the way, several sequences - Platt producing ink from weak beetroot stew, burning a letter as darkness falls - are incredibly touching in their simplicity.
12 Years A Slave, has a sincere and beautiful message: people deserve to live, not just survive.
There must be more than just dialogue; there must be a public outcry to stop this ongoing crime committed by and against humanity.
Slavery's festering and exposed wound must be permanently closed.
Author: Akash R. Ekka
Editor: Rachita Biswas