Steve McQueen's latest narrative masterpiece, 12 Years A Slave, stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northrup, a 19th century black American who was born-free and lived free in Saratoga Springs, New York -- except for the 12-year period during which he was kidnapped, transported to the South, sold and forced to live the nightmare of slavery.
Based on Solomon Northrup's own account of his experiences, published after he miraculously managed to return to his home and family, the film presents such a detailed and graphic depiction of Solomon Northrup's extreme suffering - and the suffering of those who were similarly subjugated -- that audiences will surely be convinced of the film's truth and be deeply affected by it.
12 Years A Slave is the most must-see film of 2013. It is gripping, challenging, enlightening cinematic perfection.
Although 12 Years A Slave is non-didactic in tone and makes no references whatsoever to the current human conditions around the world, it raises awareness, causes deep reflection and will stimulate much-need discussion about the history of slavery in America, and its long-lasting impact -- and about incidents of slavery in our contemporary world.
As additional references and for guidance to further reflection, I say its time to delve in to some documentaries. Here are several that come to mind:
- Traces of the Trade: A Tale From the Deep North
- Moving Midway
- In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee
- Very Young Girls
- Have You Heard From Johannesburg?
- Freedom Riders
Of course, the slavery shown in 12 Years A Slave is specific to the American South. Of the films listed above, only two -- Traces of the Trade: A Tale From the Deep North and Moving Midway -- are associated with slavery in the American South. The others address contemporary slavery in North Africa, the history of apartheid (not exactly slavery, but close enough) in South Africa and the struggle against it, the struggle to achieve civil rights for African-Americans in the American South, sexually exploited girls, child switching in Korea, and -- as counterpoint to these explorations of evils -- the nature of forgiveness.
(PHOTO: Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northrup in '12 Years A Slave.' Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight).