I saw the film 12 Years a Slave several weeks ago, so yes, this post is a bit late. However, it seems there are still a lot of people who have it on their "must see" list, but have yet to purchase a ticket. The most given reasons are: I gotta get my my mind right before I see it or it's going to upset me and I have to go back to work with a bunch of White people or yeah, the slave movie, un unh, see I can't watch movies like that, it'll piss me off. This review is for these people. Here's what you must know, first and foremost, the film is excellent. The story, although, heartbreaking, is told truthfully and beautifully. Finally, all of the things that you believe will upset, will, as it should.
What I love about director Steve McQueen, is he does not falter when shooting an uncomfortable scene. He let's the pain sit and hold you. He tests your resolve. He tests your strength. In regards to a film centered on slavery, there is no better way to direct such a piece of work. You have to let it burn. You must make the film simmer. Everything you do not want to see, is exactly what you should. African Americans do not often like to talk about the painful past. Most likely because it is not that far removed from where we are today. Most of us in my generation, the 80s babies, has a parent or grandparent who remembers the Jim Crow era. We have heard the stories up close and personal, from people we love and know very well. As a culture, we tend to try and forget. But why? Let us never forget what our ancestors put up with, to bring us to the present. Is it because we are ashamed at the fact that those who came before us endured so much and here we are in the present, creating twerking videos, referring to each other as bitches and hos, or take are "freedom" to mean we can act like fools. Oh, did I step on your toes? My bad. The fact is, most, if not all of us are guilty of taking our ancestors strife for granted. As humans, we have lived as such. Very humanly.
McQueen's film does not sugarcoat the life of an enslaved person. This is no modern-day love letter to the antebellum South. There is no romance attached to the all to real horrors that transpired. This ain't Gone With the Wind! Sorry Kenya Moore, but as a Black woman, nothing about Gone With the Wind is fabulous. There is no heartfelt story of Master and Slave enjoying a sweet and respectful relationship. The film does not spend time showing the story of the Mistress of the house building a bond with one of the house slaves. Nope, this is a raw tale. The story depicts the sick and twisted history we all share. I remember being in the 7th or 8th grade, in Gulfport, MS. I was attending a majority White Catholic high school. One of my teachers, Ms. Durbin, once told the class that during the time of slavery there were many different stories and they were not all that bad. She said that many times, the owners of slaves worked side by side with their field hands. That they did not all have big houses, or get rich off of the slave's back and hard labor. To which a very bold young MJ raised her hand and said, "but the difference is, the slave owner got to go home at night." Yep, I was one of those kids. Girl, don't try it! It did not help that I was going through my Malcolm X fascination phase. I was not having it. Living in the South I realized how many people still long for those days. Paula Deen isn't the only one who wants to throw a plantation-slave party. I cannot tell you how many plantations I have visited while at that school for field trips.
Another thing you must know before seeing the film, and this is not a spoiler alert: there will be whippings! I was discussing the film with a co-worker in the staff kitchen and another co-worker was saying she did not want to hear about it. I said, "listen, if there is nothing else in a slave movie, you can definitely expect that someone will get whipped!" I mean, really. McQueen shows the brutality in a way that makes you want to hide your face. You find yourself holding your breath waiting to exhale. Yep, that's what makes the film genius. The director has successfully put you, the viewer, the spectator- in the moment. That's how the story of slavery needs to be told. Not as a glossed-over, excuse-making movie, but an unflinching scope of what took place.
You have to see the film. No matter what your ethnicity is. Get over the fact that people may not be as sensitive to it as you think they should be. When I went, there was a group behind us made up of non-Black folk. They snickered and giggled during certain scenes. Mind you, I laughed at no parts in the entire film. When my group I saw the film with left out, my best friend said they were pissing him off with their giggling. I told him, due to the intense nature of the film, you can liken it to a nervous laugh. People watch it looking for any moment to breathe. The film is heavy and everyone has not matured to know how to take in what they are seeing. I explained they probably meant no harm, they just did not know what to do and how to handle their emotions. If this happens while you are seeing the film, try your best to dismiss their immaturity. Hell, there were Black people doing it too, and I say the same thing for them as well.
Still apprehensive? Ask yourself, why is this so uncomfortable for me? Go with a good movie buddy whom you can openly discuss the film with afterwards. You will definitely want to talk about it. Finally, go with an understanding that no matter how uncomfortable you feel, you will be watching it in a plush movie theater, eating popcorn; the story you see on screen, however, is real and you can't be any more uncomfortable than our ancestors felt going through it.
12 Years a Slave See it!