12 years a slave, a 2013 movie directed by British director Steve McQueen, vividly describes the life of a slave, Solomon Northrup. The film begins in as Northrup is in a room with a woman, the location being a cane farm in Louisiana. Northrup’s experience with a woman they share a room with conjures up memories with his wife, and we are taken to how Northrup came to be there and the subsequent events. As a free man, Northrup was a skilled music artist and had a loving family. While on an excursion, he meets with two men who lure him into going with them to Washington to perform his music, where he engages in merriment which leads him to be kidnapped and chained. The director then sets us to the theme of slavery, as Northrup is given a new identity, Pratt by the slaveholder while lashing him. Northrup is in the company of a lady named Eliza and her two children, and two other black men.
The cinematography prepares viewers for the trouble to come as the sky’s beautiful images to become changed and charged when the ship which Northrup and his companions are aboard wheels and turns in river water. The director gives the viewer his thoughts on slavery as Northrup engages in a discourse with his fellow captives, distinguishing between free men and slaves, when making a decision on whether or not to fight their captors. One of the captives is killed when he tries to object to the sexual assault on Eliza. Northrup’s reverie unfolds. The slave merchant splits Eliza and her children, as Northrup plays his violin to console himself. Racism is apparent as the term “nigger is introduced”. The viewer is introduced to plantation farmers, John Tibeats a Ford plantation owner and Red river plantation owner, William Ford who symbolizes religious life. Eliza’s cries earn a sense of “sympathy” as she is given light duties; household chores, but her continued mourning makes her be sent to the fields.
While in the fields, Northrup is depicted as a dutiful and sedulous worker. He uses inventions to solve problems, but his brilliance earns him a dispute with the Carpenter, Tibeats, who feels intimidated by Northrup’s intelligence. Tibeats frequently insults Northrup and whips him, but Northrup fights back. Who in turn threatens to kill him. The raconteur is felt in the way conversations take place, the language used is informal, crude, and articulate which captures beauty and cruelty equally. It is then that we experience Northrup’s most severe moment, he is hanged by Tibeats and two other men, but he is rescued by an overseer. The camera’s overly showing of the suffering is heartrending. Despite the suffering of Northrup, viewers are shown a serene land beside him, as Ford comes to cut him down, claiming he was a good worker, before handing him over to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).
Epps’s painting in the film symbolizes his brutality, as he is depicted as lean, funny-looking and ferocious. He is the owner of a cotton farm, where Northrup and yet another slave Patsey are pickers. Epps is a drunkard, a pretentious man who hides behind religion to administer punishment, especially when cotton yields fall below what he wants. Patsey, symbolizes the African woman, a hard worker, and is valued by Epps, to the fury of Epps’s wife who continually directs her fury at Patsey as she often attacks her. Patsey is raped by Epps, and further treatment of her by Mrs. Epps gives us the most excruciating images. Later, she is also whipped by Epps. Further, when Epps’s farm deteriorates, a fact he blames on his slaves, the slaves are leased to a judge. As the film culminates, we are introduced to a Canadian carpenter, Bass, who works on Epps’s farm but is depicted as a good man who helps Northrup be freed again.
I would recommend this movie, despite the cinematography subjects viewers to. One has to look away more than once in scenes of human suffering. This film elucidates the theme of human slavery accurately, through Northrup and his fellow slaves’ experiences. The details of the chattel servitude show us not only the evils of the practice but also the moral cost associated with it. In as much as the lives of Northrup and fellow slaves were degraded as they suffered torments while being robbed of their physical, emotive and spiritual wealth, their masters, like Epps, are depicted as equally immoral and insensitive emotively. Epps’s family is subjected to ignominies of lack of love, justice, and integrity. More often than not, he overtly showed contempt for whatever his wife said to him. His family, and slaves live in a paternalistic system, whatever the husbands say must be adhered to. Slavery is depicted as moral cancer.
The painting of Northrup depicts human characteristics in terms of optimism and pessimism in equal measure. After Northrup’s capture, the slaves are bundled in the ship. As he converses with fellow captives, who are quite pessimistic, he asserts that his interest is not in survival, but rather in living, this shows his hope for a better life. A captive in the ship, who objects to the sexual mistreatment of Eliza is killed, and a slave, Clemens perceives that he is better dead than the living slaves, even though later on Clemens escapes, a form of optimism. Patsey asks Northrup (Platt) to drown her since she saw no good in life she tells him at 01:20:35 that she is not strong enough to take her own life. Nonetheless, the actors in the film are depicted as strong and optimistic beings, despite the challenges; of deception, kidnapping, and abuse. Northrup never loses hope of seeing his family once again, and equally, places hope in his friends who later come to get him.
From the start of the film, women are objectified. Northrup engages in sexual activity with a woman, but he is disengaged from the act but the woman later cries. Eliza, the captive, is maltreated by her captors. When she is separated from her children, the slave-dealer tells her “My sentimentality extends the length of a coin” concerning her daughter, which infers the young girl would serve as a concubine to the master (00:31:16). Eliza is confined to the household, but later, her mourning irritates her master who sends her to the fields. Patsey is depicted as a strong hard working woman, but Epps frequently assaults her, both sexually and physically. Mrs Epps also assaults her, depicting women as their own enemies. Mrs Epps is equally mistreated by her husband, since he cheats on her with his slave, and her voice is not respected by her husband.
The slave masters are depicted as inhumane beings who treat others with cruelty and deception. From the start, the slave owners deceive Northrup, and sold him to slave-merchants, robbing him of his family. The beating, lynching, raping and whipping of slaves which McQueen keeps the cinematography focused on without compromise depicts how cruel the practice was. Pratt and Patsey suffer untellable evils in the hands of slave masters. The viewers are shown the reality that was slavery, with little or no respite. The viewer gets to appreciate the value of freedom and dignity to all human beings.
Religion is depicted in Epps’s frequent reference to the scriptures as he punishes his slaves. However, his religion is depicted as dubious. What he engages in, is sexual immorality, slavery, inhumanity and little respect for the Sabbath (he ran like a madman when he suspected Patsey of having been involved in a sexual encounter). However, McQueen tries to uphold spirituality by dignifying human life, depicting hope, and showing that all whites were not bad, as in the case of Bass, who helped Northrup get to his friends. The Ford plantation owner also is depicted as a man who regards highly religion and ensures his household adheres to it.