Sunday, 9 March 2014

12 Years a Slave 2013

I'm not known to mince words or withhold my opinions, especially when it comes to film. I don't believe in following the crowd and agreeing with the majority, only to avoid standing out. And yet, I have been guilty of doing exactly that when it comes to this film. My review of 12 Years a Slave, written last month, was a bit of a crowd pleaser. I pretty much wrote what was expected of me, rather than what I actually felt about it.

This is what I wrote:
Steve McQueen is an exceptionally talented man. This is the third feature film that he has directed and like the other two (Hunger 2008, Shame 2011), this one too is unrelenting and fearless in its content and focus. Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, who was a musician and a free man till he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, the film charts the horrors that he witnessed and cruelty he experienced. There are scenes in the film which are almost unbearable to watch, but the camera never shies away and therefore the audience almost can not look away. Brilliantly directed, brilliantly acted (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt) and well-written - my only question was the importance of this story and why this was special. Northup almost never shows a sign of bravery - and in the end he does to another what was done to him. I understand that times were hard and heroes did not survive - but in that case why is Northup's story worth telling over so many others? Still, as a film, it's perfect!

It took an email from my esteemed friend PB that made me realise that I have, in fact, suppressed quite a few reactions to this film. So, while I still maintain that Nyong'o's and Fassbender's characters and performances were phenomenal, Ejiofor's character and performance had invoked a lot less emotion in me. I had found it difficult to stomach that Northup was living such a comfortable life pre-slavery that it could have been comparable to the lives of upper-class white folk. There were a lot of other details about the slaves and their very effected portrayals that had left me a bit cold. But Brad Pitt's almost holy character had annoyed me the most.

PB questions the historical accuracy of the piece - and classes it as Abolitionist Propaganda. This is not to deny at all the abhorrent inhumanity that was/is slavery. This is only to say that to illustrate a fair point, some truths may have been stretched beyond reality.

My personal tussle is more with the lack of interest I had in Northup's story. I fail to see why this film is important today. I fail to see why I should care about a man who really did not fight the system. He became somewhat part of the evil, to survive. And only after he was safe, did he raise his voice. However brutal and effective the torture scenes were, I still did not connect with the protagonist and I do not understand the relevance of his story today.

So, in fact I did not like 12 Years a Slave. And the main reason I felt compelled to say otherwise, was because it felt wrong to say that a film about slavery wasn't really all that important. I have the highest respect for Steve McQueen and this story was obviously closer to his heart than his previous films - but in choosing Northup's book, I think he has missed a trick. I wish he had chosen a more compelling story to offer his audience an insight into slavery and its ugliness.


  1. Finally someone speaks the truth.
    This year's emperor clothes.