12 Years A Slave: A film worth every accolade

12 Years A Slave

12 Years A Slave has been constantly touted by critics as the best film to encircle the ever captivating and disturbing American slave trade. Although this may be a big claim, it is completely worth this accolade.


Directed by British director Steve McQueen, known for his direction of Shame (2011) and Hunger (2008), the film follows the life of Solomon Northup, a black man born free, who is tricked, drugged and kidnapped in Washington before being sold into slavery. It is a envisioning of the 1853 memoir of the same name and clearly prides itself on being a faithful interpretation of Solomon’s life in slavery.


Solomon is played superbly by Chiwetel Ejifor, whose determination and presence throughout leaves you transfixed on every emotion. Ejifor is supported by talented newcomer Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, a young slave whose ability to work hard has caught the unfortunate attention of the slavemaster Epps (Michael Fassbender). Fassbender is particularly thrilling to watch as the sadistic slavemaster whose self-hate and tyrannical abuse of his slaves overwhelms his life.


While the powerful acting of all of these heavyweights in the field is incredibly central to the film, its biggest accolade has to be its honesty and intent. Unlike many historical drama films that become ‘hollywood-ised’ (and by that, I mean sugar-coated) McQueen makes sure the ‘truth’ as he understands it is shown.


His lingering and unflinching camera shots show the cruelty of slavery surrounding Solomon with certainty. While at times this can make you want to look away, the power of the scene in-front of you makes it impossible!


The film’s honesty is explored through the relationships between slavemasters and slaves during this period. Instead of simplifying slavery as a ‘blacks vs whites,’ McQueen delves into the affection, desire and guilt encircling their complex relationships. 


The acting prowess of Benedict Cumberbatch is harnessed for a short period at the beginning of Solomon’s life in slavery, hinting towards the complexity and confusion slave owners felt towards their ‘property.’ Moreover, the relationship between Patsey and Epps is particularly poignant as Epps struggles with his desire and perhaps affection for her.

12 Years A Slave is a unique historical drama that displays slavery with complete honesty and realism. Every shot within this masterpiece is intent on showing the disturbing reality of slavery through one man’s confinement. The film educates and elevates its audience and will stand alone in its treatment of history.


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