12 Years a Slave

 

Fox Searchlight Pictures

 

Rating: R

 

Reason for the Rating: Violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality.

 

Plot Summary: At the height of slavery in America, a free black man is kidnapped from New York State and sold as a slave in Louisiana.

 

PopFam Recommends: Some scenes are difficult to watch, and parents should exercise caution before allowing children to see this movie…But this is a culturally relevant film worth seeing and discussing with teens.

 

Imagine waking one morning to find yourself shackled in a strange room. Your last memories are of an entertaining evening with new friends, yet you have no memory of how you ended up in chains, in a bare room and people beating you.

 

This was the experience of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man in the early 1840's. Married with two children, Solomon is coerced into leaving his home in New York for Washington D.C to accept a short-term job offer. What he doesn't know, is that the two men with whom he's travelling are slave traders, sent to kidnap black men and women to sell into slavery.

 

12 Years A Slave is a disturbing and heart-wrenching story on several levels. As humans we are angered by the injustice and harm inflicted on others, and as parents our hearts are unraveled for the families who endured being torn from each other with no sympathy from their captures. While the film focuses on Solomon, it also tells the story of other slaves he meets along the way: Eliza (Adepero Oduye), a mother who is sold without her children, and Patsy (Lupita Nyong'o), a slave girl who is so abused by her master and mistress that she wants to die. The characters are as deep as the ocean, and you'd have to have a heart of stone not to feel the pain resonating from them.

 

Solomon is an amazing character and Chiwetel Ejiofor brings him to life with seeming effortlessness. While he's forced to give up his legal name and assume the name "Pratt," Solomon doesn't forget who he is. He is determined to not simply survive, but to also live. While he tries to maintain his dignity among the masters who want to own him, he finds himself being punished for it. So when he, by the grace of God, meets Bass (Brad Pitt), a Canadian abolitionist, Solomon risks his life by asking for help. And after 12 long years he is reunited with his family.

 

While 12 Years A Slave has a happy ending, it's terribly difficult to watch. Director Steve McQueen in no way glosses over the horrific experiences of slaves, showing graphically whippings, beatings, hangings, and other horrendous and humiliating doings. This story of slavery is really no different from others we've seen, and why should it be? While the names and faces of the "overseers" or "masters" are different, their characters are the same. Cruel. Full of hatred. Willing to use slaves for their own personal gain and gratification, but unable to see them as humans. It's a fact of history that slaves were generally abused and misused by those in authority over them. As one overseer admits, when all you do is flog and misuse others, you can't escape the guilt. So you either give into it, or find a way to medicate it. Regardless of the time period, the effects of sin never change.

 

I found it interesting to watch this movie just after Super Bowl weekend. Interesting, because that was a weekend chosen to illuminate the issue of sex trafficking. While it's easy to watch a movie like 12 Years A Slave and compartmentalize this issue as something that happened in our country's history, the fact remains that it is still occurring. It simply looks different than it did 150 years ago.

 

As you can imagine, this is not a movie for children. While the topic is relevant for today, as well as a good history lesson, parents need to be aware that the movie contains scenes that are difficult to watch, and are graphic in nature. There's a good reason this movie has been nominated for nine Oscars and won the Golden Globe for Best Drama. It's a movie who's story will grip you and its characters will move you. It's a movie worth your time.

 

Let’s Talk About It

Use these questions to spark discussion among family members who are interested in this movie:

 

• Many slave owners and overseers were keeping slaves based on what they believed or had been taught from society. What is something you believe in based on social values?

 

• While talking with Edwin Epps, Bass says, "Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all." How does this argument point to God?

 

• Understanding someone else's pain is difficult to do, as made plain by Mistress Ford's comment to Eliza, "Something to eat and some rest; your children will soon enough be forgotten." When has someone spoken meaningful words of comfort to you during a difficult time?

 

--JW

 

Tags: Steve McQueen,Solomon Northrup,Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dwight Henry, Uncle Abram, Quvenzhané Wallis,Michael K. Williams,Michael Fassbender,Golden Globe,Academy Awards,Oscar

 

Note: All product-related graphics in this article are standard publicity/promotional shots and are owned by their respective publisher.

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