By: Danielle Pohlman – Lead A&E Writer
Based on one man’s incredible true journey from freedom to slavery, British director Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave”
takes a fearless approach at a shameful chapter in American history.
Different than the Hollywood sugarcoating most are used to, “12 Years a Slave” captures the depths of the souls of the characters through their own eyes. Many scenes left the audience simultaneously wanting more but wishing to look away.
If I deliberately looked away from those fictional characters and scenes, I was turning my back on history and reality.
I sat in shock of the brutal violence that left me with tears in my eyes and a shiver down my spine.
I vividly remember the scene of a slave left hanging from a tree, his toes barely reaching the mud below him and grunting from near suffocation. McQueen lingered on this scene to emphasize the mere helplessness of the slave, as the rest of the plantation workers went about their business, fearful for their lives if they even looked his way.
The talented fiddle player, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), lives in Saratoga in 1841 with his wife and two children as a free man. He accepts a gig with the traveling circus ending in Washington D.C. where he awakens chained to the floor, drugged and sold into slavery.
After being shipped to New Orleans, his name is changed to “Platt” as a runaway from Georgia. Eventually Platt is sold to a plantation owner, Epps (Michael Fassbender). Epps is a drunkard who is infatuated with his female cotton-picker, Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o).
One day, Platt meets a Canadian worker on the plantation named Bass (Brad Pitt), who he confides in and tells of his past life and real identity. Bass promises to help him send a letter to Saratoga for Platt, as he has been in slavery unjustly for twelve years.
Pitt’s character is an example of the anti-slavery movement based on natural law. Not so slyly, McQueen made Pitt a Canadian character to show the American mindset on slavery. As Solomon wrote, “What difference is there in the color of the soul?”
Based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup in 1853, this will never be an easy watch.
Inevitably, it inspires a deep sense of shame in any American with a soul. However, McQueen’s version of reality was much needed for the general population, non-believers, doubters, sugar-coaters and all those who have forgotten.