|McQueen on the set of 12 Years a Slave|
I watched 12 Years a Slave after The 2014 Oscars- the 86th Academy Awards, during which the movie was recognised for Best Picture. Moreover, our very own Kenyan Lupita Nyong’o scooped the award for Best Actress in Supporting Role. With the many positive reviews and hype, one’s expectations would be raised high, as after all this is the movie of the year, right?
12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen, is based on a true story; the memoirs of Solomon Northup. It is a compelling tale of a free African American man living in Saratoga, New York, in the 1840s kidnapped by two white men promising him a good salary in a travelling circus and sold into slavery in the South, where slavery is a booming business.
McQueen uses creative shots, making the movie quite artistic. From the use of light and shadows when Solomon is first imprisoned, to the intricate shots of the marks on the backs and faces of slaves at the slave market. From the beautiful nature at sunrise, to the close up shots of Solomon’s letter burning into the darkness, signifying the end of his hope for freedom.
Many have said that it is a difficult movie to watch, and indeed it is. The sheer brutality of the slave masters as depicted in the film is quite gory. The inhumane joy at the plight of others is a heartless affair, from the irony in his kidnappers seeming to actually care for him, yet tricking him for a bit of money, to the separation of slave children from their mothers, up to Patsy begging Solomon to take her life, as well as her horrible whipping at the stake when all she wanted was a bar of soap.
However, I personally did not feel the heart of the movie- it did not seem to adequately capture the extreme emotion that such inhumanity evokes. Solomon seems to be in a constant daze- a sort of bewilderment as to how he ended up in such a situation, and is almost living outside his own body, observing all that is happening around him. The appearance of his “liberator” is quite random- he came suddenly, almost 12 years later it seemed, and all is suddenly resolved. Maybe his story should have been made a bit clearer, as he seemed to pull a Batman stunt in suddenly appearing and saving the day.
12 Years a Slave is definitely better shot than other historic films based on slavery, McQueen wins hands down for his creativity and aesthetics in the movie. However, in terms of plot, drama and the downright heart of such a film, Amistad does it for me.