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Screens

’12 Years a Slave’ Vividly Depicts Brutal True Story

Photo: Courtesy Photos, License: N/A

Courtesy Photos

Shut up and play your violin—Plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and slave Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor)


McQueen’s most beautifully shot scene poignantly illustrates how his impeccable aesthetics compromise our emotional investment. Northup, desperate to conceal his education from Epps, sets fire to the letter he had hoped would bring him salvation. We watch as the flames consume the paper and ink he struggled so hard to gather, until the last ember dies into blackness. It’s a gorgeously poetic moment, but one that chooses the symbolic death of hope over the look on Northup’s face. Ejiofor is far too magnificent an actor (and Northrup too important a subject) to be left in the dark at such a pivotal moment.

Nevertheless, none of these criticisms should dissuade you from seeing 12 Years A Slave. It may not achieve the greatness its source material deserves, but it is still a very good film. And despite what some might say, the history of American slavery has been woefully underserved by Hollywood, making it all-too easy for revisionists to rationalize, rewrite or dismiss the moral darkness our nation once embraced. When you have prominent politicians like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum signing pledges that assert that life for African Americans was better during slavery than it is today, McQueen’s film becomes an important cultural rebuttal.

12 Years a Slave

Dir. Steve McQueen; writ. John Ridley, Solomon Northup; feat. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch (R)
Opens Nov 1 at Santikos everywhere

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