Watching 12 Years A Slave gave me a very realistic, but very shocking visual about everything that we have learned in class regarding slavery this semester and how slavery really was in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in America. Before watching the movie, I thought I had a good idea of what slavery was like up until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in December of 1865, which officially ended it in the United States of America. However, what I realized is that I knew about slavery, but I didn’t really know what it was like until I saw it with my own eyes in this movie.
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12 Years A Slave was a unique movie in that it accurately captured the brutality and injustice of buying and selling people as if they were products or goods in a very bold and brutally honest way. I say this because I have watched other movies about slavery that were unable to do this. This unapologetically brutality is what allowed me to feel for the black slaves and see the tremendous evilness, brutality, and terrible violent treatments that white slave owners imposed on black slaves on a daily basis. The movie was centered around an African American free man who lived in upstate New York with his family, which was composed of his wife, Anne, and two children, Alonso and Margaret. His name was Solomon Northup. He was shown as a man who was living a good life and who life had been very kind to. In addition to being a loving family man, he also happened to be a very talented violinist. One day in 1841, he received an offer from a pair of “traveling entertainers” to perform in Washington D.C. Shorty after Solomon arrived there, he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in the South. For the next 12 years of his life, he suffered unimaginable physical and psychological cruelty. This cruelly planned trip to take Solomon to Washington D.C. sparked the beginning of a terrible new life for him. Solomon, an innocent free black man had now lost his real life and had essentially become a slave overnight.
Before being kidnapped and sold into slavery, Solomon was a free black man who had yet to understand or acknowledge the tenuous false sense of security that enabled him to be ignorant to slavery. Solomon was a different kind of black person because he was a middle class man that was nothing like the black slaves in the South at the time. All of this became irrelevant once he woke up in a dark cell and realized that he had been kidnapped. At this time, his sense of security was broken and was never to be restored again. To the slave catchers who had kidnapped and subsequently beaten him numerous times resulting in him being very close to dying, he was never the respected Solomon Northup he was in upstate New York. Instead, to them he was a Georgia runaway faceless slave with no history or free papers, who’s new identity and name was Platt. In one of the movie’s many powerful shots, Solomon’s terrified face looking through the barred window of his dark cell shouting for help after being heavily beaten up by his kidnappers was shown. Immediately after, the camera shifted from his face to reveal the U.S. capitol building on the horizon. This brief shot provided a very hard lesson for Solomon, who had then realized that as a black person, his voice, his pain, and his humanity were all invalid in the eyes of the law. Even though he was legally free before his kidnapping, this devastating and terrifying shot of Solomon’s face revealed to me how strange and incongruous it was to consider any so called free black person in 19th century America free people, when in reality their freedom was strictly relative.
Throughout the movie, I was shocked to see how many slave owners would beat up and kill their black slaves just because they were their property and they had the right to do so. Furthermore, it was very hard for me to process this because I have never seen or thought of a human being, regardless of their race or color, as property. I was also amazed by how at one point in the movie, Solomon Northup was left with no other option than to give into his situation and acknowledge that he was now a slave and not a free man anymore. There was a specific scene in the movie in which I saw his face and eyes when he realized that this was his new life now and that there was nothing he could do about it because he was now a powerless black slave in the South. I could tell he had the “I’m never getting out of this situation” type of feeling, which was a widespread feeling among all black slaves in the South at the time who were trapped in the same situation as him. In addition, countless times throughout the movie, white men and slave owners gave monologues that made me realize how terrible and crazy these people were because they really saw black people (slaves) as property. This was very shocking to me and it got to a point in the movie in which it became very hard for me to keep watching because of how cruel and sad everything that was going on was. Another thing that really shocked me and made me think about the reality of how slavery really was, was the use of the “n” word. This movie used this word in a very degrading, humiliating, and disrespectful way. The movie portrayed this as if every time a white slave owner wanted to refer or get the attention of a black slave they would do it by screaming this word out loud together with other degrading racial slurs. This became very annoying to me and I felt disgusted by the use of the word throughout the movie. It got to a point in the movie in which every time I heard the word I felt insulted and disgusted by it because of the harshness and cruelness in which it was being used by white slave owners to disrespect black slaves. It made me ask myself, “how could anyone do this on a daily basis, feel good about themselves, and keep living this way for the rest of their lives?” Inside, I was very saddened and disgusted by this, thinking about how cruel and disrespectful it was to treat, talk, and refer to black slaves or anyone in such ways.
Even though this movie made me feel terrible for all of the black slaves who suffered from this for many years throughout American history, I think this movie was definitely worth watching because of how accurately it portrayed the cruel, violent, and injust, but true reality of what slavery was at the time in America. This is the best movie I have seen about slavery and therefore I would strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand and see the truth about slavery in America.
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