Twelve Years A Slave is a hard movie to watch. I am sick and tired of slave and servant movies. This is the comfort level for Hollywood of the “Negro ” portrayal. “Driving Ms. Daisy,” “The Help,” “Jingo” and the like showcase Black actors. The great acting even wins Academy Awards, but when will we see a real movie about Black life in the 21st century. Time out. Whereas, we see American history, we also see the brutality, the demeaning, the insult and the inhumane treatment. It makes you weep.
Twelve Years A Slave is based on a real story. The main character, Solomon Northop was a “free” man who was an accomplished musician. White Men who the “negro” thought were his friends and peers tricked him. He was tricked into slavery in the nation’s capital, Washington and sold into slavery. The free man was tricked, and reminded he was not “equal” even though he had his “freeman papers.” He was reduced to a piece of property and sent to Louisiana.
Some of the scenes are brutal and show the inhumanity to man. Slaves were property, treated sometimes less than an animal. You see the free man processed into slavery. His manhood reduced. Slaves were workers, permanent laborers. Sometimes the main character, brilliantly played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, was asked to play his violin to calm the slaves and entertain the masters. The slaves were asked to dance on occasion. Solomon’s manhood was eroded, , taken away. There are scenes where the slaves cleaned them selves like animals in an open pen in a bucket of waters. They were sold and separated from their families with absolutely no regard. In one penetrating scene, the white woman says to the black woman who is in pain and constantly cries because she was sold separate from her children, that she would soon forget them.
I have been a student of history, studied slavery and its effects on American society. I think about the absolute waste of human capital. I have often wondered about one element, and that is the white male psychic. How could the white male establish and enforce the laws ranging from inhumanity to cruelty to obscene to hatred, yet be intimate with the women that he was suppose to despise. There is one scene that is absolutely heart breaking. The slave girl, who master is intimate with, is beaten unmercifully. She is the light of his eye and provides sexual pleasure and when confronted by his white wife, to sell her, he tells her, he will get rid of her before he rids himself of the slave. The slave girl dances and prances for him, has sex with him and picks 500 pounds of cotton a day. She is the best field hand.
She is a friend with an older slave woman who has found her way to the social status of being master’s mistress and having servants serve her tea at another plantation. She visits that plantation one day to get a piece of soap, so that she can wash her body of a stench that she says she can’t even stand of herself. Her master discovers her gone and thinks that she has run away and punishes her. He has her fellow male slave beat her with a whip, hanging from the tree, bear back. It is unmerciful. Cruel. The master and his wife enjoy watching. The Black male slave is not beating her hard enough and the white master takes matters into his own hands and whips her and whips her and whips her. This is the same man who has sex with her, loves her beautiful loins.
I don’t get it. These painful lessons provoke hatred. This is history for real, it happened and yes it’s over and we realize it is Hollywood’s version, but it is hard to watch and excruciating to understand that Blacks were less than human, we were property. Today a standard of difference still exists. You see it daily. Think Trayvon. And last but not least, here’s a catch to the movie. In the credits it reads that the animals were not subject to cruel treatment. Well, I will just be damn. We see the people beaten unmerciful but the credits read to animal cruelty.
Hollywood needs to get a grip and find some new tales about Black folk. I am not a drinking woman, but after this movie, if you are Black, you need a drink of hard liquor to calm your nerves.
As I watch these slaves’ movies, I wonder why they didn’t fight back. Could the slaves, the fresh African really have been so docile, I wonder. I think to today about the kids who are so violent. Did the whites really get to the minds of our ancestors so bad that they were totally reduced to a total submission? Or is this the Hollywood version of the way we were?