by Robert Earl Houston
Last week, my wife and I went to see the new, Oscar-buzzed movie, 12 Years a Slave. It has taken me a few days to absorb the movie and I write this hoping that you won’t take just my word for this movie, but you will go see it for yourself.
This movie is based on the true story and book by the same name penned by Solomon Northrup, who wrote this book in his autobiography in 1853. He was a free black man who was kidnapped in, ironically, Washington, DC and sold as a “runaway” Georgia Slave to a series of slavemasters in Louisiana, where he was held for 12 years until his release.
Directed by Steve McQueen and written by John Ridley, this movie stars what proves to be the perfect choice for not only lead actor of the film, but should be the Best Actor at next year’s Oscars, Chiwetel Ejiofor. He is absolutely believable in his translation from free man to slave man to free man – with a grace and dignity as free to determined and calculating as a slave and then humbled and grateful for his freedom again.
Besides Ejiofor, the movie centers around a hard-working but misaligned slave by the name of Patsey, who is also the object of her slavemaster’s affections with the knowledge and objection of his wife. She is played with power by Lupita Nyono’o and honestly her supporting role bumps Oprah Winfrey out of the picture. She is the paradox of the movie – a woman who can pick 500 pounds of cotton a day, easily surpassing all of the other slaves, and yet has to enduring sexual advances by an out of control slave master, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). This is easily a shoo-in for Best Picture.
As I watched the movie, some points were too painful and graphic to take in at once. I’ll probably go back and attempt to do so. But when I think of my ancestors who endured this hardship, pain and devaluation of humanity, it makes me take our nation in a light of thanking God for the progress we’ve made (albeit it against the majority’s will in the South), but also knowing we have a long ways to go.
The cruelty of the slave owners is vivid. Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Paul Giamatti make the business of slave holding very vivid down to the unreasonable pain inflicted upon slave families.
If you go, be prepared for moments of silence. I think the filmmakers intention of inserting large moments of silence is to give the audience time to process what they’ve just seen. There were moments when the audience wept and wept, and yes, I cried to as well. You’re given a front row seat to the pain of one very American family whose lives were completely disrupted by the ill intentions of those who saw children of colors as livestock and commodity instead of human beings. May we never again experience this type of behavior toward anyone in this country again.
I hope that this generation of young people will watch this movie. It is their generation’s Roots. I hope that when they see it some attitudes will change, pants will be pulled up, our women will no longer be referred outside of their names, and that we’ll have a greater appreciation for our history and our survival.