As I blogged almost a year ago, I didn’t much care for Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” (to put it mildly), the last mainstream movie that was ostensibly about slavery, but was really about Tarantino’s running out of inspiration. I knew that there was yet to be made a film worthy of the seriousness of the subject, and it has arrived: 12 Years A Slave. If this adaptation of Solomon Northup’s autobiographical novel doesn’t win Oscars – or at least nominations – for Director Steve McQueen, Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o, and Producer Brad Pitt (for Best Picture), I’ll be, well… flabbergasted.
You really can’t understand contemporary conservative talk of secession, or of the South’s “rising again”, or the Tea Party’s reflexive rejection of all things Obama (policy disagreements aside), without understanding the history of the South, and you can’t understand the history of the South without coming to grips with 18th and 19th century slavery. The concrete reality of that slavery – much like the reality of the Holocaust – resists conceptualization, or adequate description in language. But its essence can at least be indicated by the artful telling of the stories of particular slaves (and slave-owners), and I’ve seen no better representation of such experiences in film.
I do have one minor quibble: as producer of the film, it was a bit self-serving of Brad Pitt to cast himself in one of the most pivotal (if brief) roles, and as one of the few admirable white characters. His appearance needlessly took me out of the movie, and his role certainly could have been just as well-handled by a less recognizable actor. But I’m willing to cut him some slack on this one, since just having his name on the posters will probably sell a significant number of seats, and he deserves a lot of credit for backing the film.
Anyway, if you can handle some rather intense scenes of cruelty and violence, I encourage you to see this movie, and to see it in the theatre for maximum effect.