With the upcoming Oscars on the horizon the movie 12 Years a slave is receiving some serious consideration as best picture. To be honest I left that movie thoroughly convinced that it is indeed the best picture and quite possibly one of the best ever made.
The film, is based on a true memoir by Solomon Northrup, a free man, tricked, drugged and sold into slavery where he spent 12 years in and around Louisiana. What differentiates this film is the impeccable screen writing ( John Ridley ) and direction, ( Steve Mc Queen ). This film is great on so many levels it should probably be required viewing in high schools world wide. The enslavement of African people in America is a topic that has never received the attention it deserves due to a variety of factors some of which are political.
The failure to address slavery in a manner deserving of the subject probably accounts for the lack of a serious film depiction since the movie( Roots). The choice of Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead was critical due in part because of his acting chops, which are beyond reproach, but because very few people today could portray Northrup’s range of hope, achievement, despair and horror.
More than anything, the movie illustrates the utter hopelessness of a predicament which could only understood as hell on earth. What did the institution do to the enslaved ? their enslavers ? The answers reveal cultural implications that span decades.
The director gave the needed time and attention to the impact of slavery on families, person hood and the degree to which cognitive dissonance was needed to justify the system to a great number of Americans. The movie was paced and depicted in a fashion that played like an Indie film beautifully photographed. There are scenes that are difficult to watch but the director was correct in forcing us to witness the uncompromising nature of this peculiar institution.
The genius in this film’s direction was in some scenes that were not over developed but left to the interpretation of the audience. One such scene was after a savage beating a female slave was being cared for by other females but the slave/men in the room were positioned just so as to depict the utter helplessness and frustration shared by all of them. ( A similar frustration experienced by black men to this day ).
The cast resembled a band performing the concert of a lifetime while realizing the need to maintain the flow. Every aspect of this movie struck the right cord and to top it off Hans Zimmer was chosen to provide the score. A better choice could not be made as the searing notes stay with you long after the film is done.
A serious film deserves a serious cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Micheal Fassbender, Lupita Nyongo, Benedict Cumberbach, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard and Quuvenzhane Wallis.
To understand an often overlooked aspect of true American History, one which shows us at our best and worst. You could do a lot worse than viewing what amounts to a tour de-force and easily the best picture of the year.