The film 12 Years a slave has received acclaim, winning the best picture Oscar and Bafta
Chiwetal Ejiofor won the Bafta for best actor, while Lupita Nyong’o won the Oscar for best supporting actress.
It was surprising though that director Steve McQueen and supporting actor Michael Fassbender did not receive either Oscar of Bafta recognition for the excellence of their work.
The film tells the story of Solomon Northup, who in1841 was a free man in New York. He was a renowned musician, performing in high society. Everything turned sour though when he was tricked by a couple of con men who effectively sold him into slavery. He then disappears into the southern slave plantations of Louisiana before finally being liberated. Solomon wrote his memoir in 1853, though the story did not become public knowledge until the late 1960s.
The majority of the film is about Solomon’s struggle to regain his freedom. Brilliantly acted and directed, the drama manages to capture the brutality of this period of American history. The slaves were regarded literally as non-people or pieces of property. When Solomon is initially being sold, there is the scene when the prospective white buyers are inspecting their potential purchases, checking teeth and potential physical strength – it is very much the scene of the meat market.
Solomon, played brilliantly by Chiwetal Ejiofor, struggles to obtain his freedom, having to hide his previous educated life. The slave owners played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender offer views of a more reasonable man and a religious fanatic on the edge of insanity for much of the time.
Fassbender really captures the manic nature of his character, with a sadistic wife he is seemingly on the edge all of the time. The view of the slave as property is constantly reiterated.
The rightgeousness of the slave owners position is backed up by a strange religious fervour. The Cumberbatch character is seen reading from the bible to his slaves, while Fassbender blames his slaves for a caterpillar that comes to decimate the cotton crop. The slaves have upset God, so have to go away until the caterpillar disappears.Solomon is eventually rescued but only after a number of twists of fate. Director Steve McQueen brings his own unique skills as an artist (he previously won the Turner prize) to the film. This is particularly clear in the scene when Solomon is being punished by his first owner, hung and left twisting in the breeze for what seems hours. Then later the lashing of Patsey (played by Lupita Nyong’o) which graphically shows the effect of each lash on her back.One of the great values of the film though is in bringing to life the true horror of slavery. It tells of a period that happened almost two hundred years ago but today there is still slavery going on across the world. Sex trafficking is a particularly virulent form of modern slavery, which it must be hoped that films like 12 Days a Slave will help highlight and bring to an end