I went to see the movie 12 Years a Slave this past week. At the time it was only playing in four theatres (three in Chicago; one in Evanston). That initial opening was by design, in my humble opinion. The powers that be wanted to make sure that the descendants of enslaved Africans didn’t riot after watching a movie that accurately not only portrayed slavery, but did it from the enslaved person’s point of view.
Even better, the movie is based on the book by the same name and written by Solomon Northup, a free man of color. Tricked into going to Washington, D.C., he was kidnapped and sold into slavery.
And this isn’t the Gone with the Wind version of slavery with the happy mammy running about and the Negroes singing in the field. Nor is it the fantasy D’jango Unchained version, with the former slave killing white people for money.
It is the realistic version portraying all the horrors of a system that took a person’s humanity from them and turned them into beasts of burden. We were simply property! And with the same callousness that a lot of black people dispose of garbage on the ground, such was the ability of slave owners to dispose of their slaves like we were garbage, tossed aside and about because we didn’t matter.
The film leaves very little to the imagination. Black people were subject to the whims and wants of both the “Massa” and the “Missus.” And there is only one kind of people being called “nigga” and “nigger” in the movie, and it has nothing to do with that lie of a definition in Webster’s dictionary.
I strongly feel that everyone should see the movie. Personally, I think children as young as 10 can see it. The average child has seen more violence, nudity and sex on television than the R rating this film got implies. And to those namby-pamby-wimpy-whiny black folks who always like to profess that they just “can’t deal with it,” I say this —your ancestors did! And what they went through is now currently being shown on the silver screen in brutal and bloody color.
And because the movie is based on a factual story, and the title says it all, there’s not a single “spoiler” moment to film. But the movie is filled with fascinating moments. The dining scene in Washington, D.C. — pay attention to the diners. The whipping scene — pay attention to what caused it. And the plantation church scene — every Sunday at 11 a.m.
Originally after viewing the film (I went with my most militant/ activist friend), I was neutral to it, because it didn’t show me anything I didn’t know already. But the beauty of the film is that it isn’t candy-coated.
Those who profited off of slavery bought into it for the monetary value of the system. The movie has taken an emotional hold that crept up on me. I cared about the characters in the film.
And it did justice to the conflicting roles of white people in regards to slavery. There were whites who enslaved us and whites that set us free. There were whites who hurt us and whites who helped us. And Solomon again becoming a free man didn’t just happen because his master let him go free.
My hope is that all black people will take the time to learn our history. To know our history and what are ancestors suffered so we can honor them by honoring one another is a realistic goal.
We are the proud descendants of enslaved Africans. Those men and women did nothing wrong to be enslaved and have their children and grandchildren enslaved.
There are so many stories to tell as we delve into the history of black people in this country. Let us not be scared of seeing or telling that past. When we as a people reach full consciousness of our past, only then can we understand that there isn’t a joke in having dark skin or having been enslaved or in being forced to sit at the back of the bus and being considered three-fifths a man.
“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, I’m free at last!”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.