1/20/2014

12 Years A Slave

[Content Note: spoilers, sexual assault]

It might as well have been called "White People Talking To Slaves".

In film about slavery, only 3 high profile black actors were hired: 
    1. Chiwetel Ejiofor
    2. Quevanzhané Wallis (no lines)
    3. Alfre Woodard
Compared to 8 high profile white actors
    1. Paul Giamatti
    2. Benedict Cumberbatch
    3. Michael Fassbender
    4. Paul Dano
    5. Taran Killam
    6. Sarah Paulson
    7. Garret Dillahunt
    8. Brad Pitt
Would it have been so hard to have a cast of slaves with more familiar faces? Ultimately, the fact that the stars are mostly white once more white washes a theme which is supposed be a critical and realistic portrayal of the time, not a perpetuation of today's institutional racism.

Most relevant lines in the film were delivered by the white actors. The worst part (for me) was Brad Pitt's tirade on slavery and how wrong it was, directed at the slave master portrayed by Fassbender. They couldn't have an entire film without the "good white guy" coming in and showing that hey, not all white people were evil. In my opinion, there could have been discussion about slavery among the slaves, who's only moments of complicity are when they are singing on the plantation - a one dimensional portrayal of slavery, one we have already seen over and over and over. 

I wasn't surprised at Steve McQueen's near obsession with Michael Fassbender (Hunger, Shame). His character was developed far beyond any other - in a movie about slavery. It became more about his fetichization and repeated rape of Patsey, as opposed to Patsey's actual struggle. We only see her suffering in a scene where she begs Solomon to kill her, and when she is being whipped by both Mr Epps and Solomon, the much talked about scene that yells "Oscar fodder". There is no depth to her character, she is presented as the "little innocent slave" who is abused by her master... a waste of Ms. Nyong'o's high caliber acting (because despite this, she is an amazing performer).

Great acting, terrible adaptation. In the book, Solomon Northup is able to send a letter to his family informing them of his kidnapping, but they are unable to find him - this belongs in the film more than repeated scenes of slaves singing. Solomon was also made an overseer during his 10 years working for Mr Epps, and had to punish other slaves - this belongs in the film more than the repeated scenes of white people dancing.

Verdict: Nothing new. I lost interest about half an hour into the film then woke up at the whipping scene. After it, I had no interest in staying to the end, but my lover had paid for the movie tickets and it would have been rude to walk out. This is once again a Hollywood treatment for mass appeal as opposed to a challenging film about a harsh subject still relevant today.

The only good that came from it was the fact that it brought Lupita Nyong'o to the front and center of the Hollywood world, you go girl.



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