Another late evening as, for my first today, I watched number 8 of 9 Best Picture nominated movies, 12 Years a Slave. I had hoped to save this movie for last, since it won the Oscar for Best Picture. But the movie Her doesn’t release until next Tuesday. Although the timing is great, last movie out, last movie to watch, the late release date meant that tonight, I watched this winner.
12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt. It was directed by Steve McQueen. This epic tale was nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Director, Best Costuming, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for Fassbender, Best Actor for Ejiofor, Best Actress for Nyong’o and Best Picture. It won Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Picture. The movie is rated R and has a run time of 2 hours and 14 minutres.
Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, played by Ejiofor, the movie follows the life of this American born free black man who is kidnapped in 1841, at the age of 32, and sold into slavery. Torn away from his family, friends and life, Northup, who is given the name Platt, is sold or traded among the plantations of northern Louisiana. Treated cruelly by most of his owners, Solomon nevertheless determines that he will do more than survive, he will live. A very intelligent man, raised by free parents and highly educated, Northup struggles to adopt the “be silent and lay low” attitude held by the other slaves, bringing wrath upon himself and often, severe punishment.
He meets and becomes the protector of a young slave woman named Patsey, played by Nyong’o in her film debut. Patsey has drawn the unwelcomed attention of plantation owner Edwin Epps, played by Fassbender. Northup’s care of Patsey enrages Epps and nearly costs him his life. Although he never ceases to think of his wife and family back in New York, and makes several attempts to get a letter back home, asking for help, it isn’t until Northup meets itinerant carpenter Samuel Bass that hope arises. Bass, played by Brad Pitt, is from Canada and is anti-slavery. He listens to and believes Northup’s story and ultimately, is his rescuer. Sending letters on Northup’s behalf, Bass prompts the legal powers in New York to at last secure Northup’s release, allowing him to return home to his wife and now grown family. In 1853 Solomon Northup wrote his memoirs, 12 Years a Slave. For the rest of his life he spoke against slavery and was active in the abolitionist movement.
That’s the story. The movie was gripping and very well acted, especially by Chiwetel Ojiofor, whose performance was powerful and gut-wrenching, at the same time. And although I haven’t seen the last movie, Her, for comparison, I can see why 12 Years a Slave won for Best Picture. How can anyone watch this film and not be affected? All that being said, this was a very difficult movie for me to watch. I cannot stand injustice. I cannot understand how one human being can treat another human being in such horrific ways. From his kidnapping until he secured his freedom, I watched Solomon’s story with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Northup was a good man, a talented musician, a compassionate friend. Having spoken this week about living as our shimmering self, rather than hiding behind false selves, I noticed how Northup, in spite of his attempts to disappear behind a blank expression and unassuming demeanor, couldn’t help but shine. His magnificent self would rise, a true testament to human dignity, courage and perseverance. He did do more than survive, he lived. He lived to become a free man once more and emptied himself in fighting for the freedom of all people.
I was deeply impacted by this movie. And lest I point a finger at another and cry “injustice” and “prejudice”, I examined my own heart and thoughts. To see anyone else as “other”, whether because of skin color, gender, age, accomplishments, ability or for any reason, is to isolate myself and label someone else. To grow and learn from this film is to glance inward to abolish any critical spirit or thought that I am more deserving than anyone else or that anyone is less than I am. We are One is more than a sentiment to me, it is my belief. To love myself is to love another. We are the same.