Thursday, December 5, 2013


I just saw the film Twelve Years a Slave.

I nodded in recognition of the pain.
I cried at the senseless brutality, the denial of humanity, and the hopelessness which refused to relent.

And... I marveled at sustained hope, despite the context of all of the above.

I also quietly created a mental memorial to the resilience of my own ancestors who witnessed and/or experienced  situations depicted in this film.  I needn't go too far back--only to my great-grandparents.

In addition, I mourn  for those in slavery today in America and around the world.
I also grieve for those in other contemporary iterations of slavery-- poverty, homelessness, hunger, and other injustices.

The film Twelve Years a Slave is based on a memoir published in 1853 written by Solomon Northrup, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.

The film documents Northup's life in 1841 before his capture-- a hard-working, educated, family man-- a free man of color.

In stark images, the film depicts his capture and transport south, his sale on the slave market, and eventual life as a slave--- unable to reveal his true name or identity-- which would doom him to death.

This story of endurance and hope, persistence and resilience reminds us of the strength of the human spirit.

 In 1931 Dr. Sue Eakin  rediscovered this narrative, a  best-seller in its own time which validated the fictional account of slavery presented in Uncle Tom's Cabin.  So taken was she with this remarkable story that she made its investigation and authentication her life's work.

Her enhanced version, Twelve Years a Slave - Enhanced Edition by Dr. Sue Eakin Based on a Lifetime Project. New Info, Images, Mapsoffers much of her background information and photos to accompany Northrup's already fascinating truth.

I had never heard of Northrup, which made me curious.
I always approach movies like this with wariness.

Just how angry will I be when I exit the theater?
Will the truth be told?
Will all  perspectives be presented in full-color?

Prior to viewing the moving, I heard historian David Blight, Director of the Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University, discussing this movie on NPR with Terry Gross.  His comments affirmed the importance and relevance of this film.
 We love being the country that freed the slaves. We're not so fond of being the country that had the biggest slave system on the planet. We need to keep telling this story  because it, in part, made us who are....
And if you go back to this story, it's not always going to please you, but it's a story you have to work through to find your way to something more redemptive.
 He also spoke to the authenticity of this film:
I liked the film very much ... slavery is only rarely ever depicted effectively in Hollywood pictures. This film stays quite loyal to the narrative itself. It's accurate in that sense. I also found the acting terrific.
To listen the full interview with David Blight on NPR click here.
To read to the full interview with David Blight on NPR click here.

You may also be interested in an interview with director Steve McQueen (NOT the actor) and an additional interview with the screenwriter John Ridley 

The DVD of this film will be released soon and is currently available for pre-order.

For those wanting more information on slavery, in general, and in particular first-person narratives,  the federal government and most state governments have collections of slave narratives.

The Library of Congress makes available online Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project 1936-1938, which includes 2,300 accounts and 500 photographs

Several additional resources related to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Writers' Project  
can be found on the PBS website.

My own state of Ohio offers  its own collection of slave narratives, as do most states.  Check for yours.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Go to see Twelve Years a Slave or another "hard-to-watch  film."  
Or you may remember a time watching such a film-- or reading such a book.

Why is it important to tell the hard stories-- the ones we don't want to talk about, the ones of which we are not proud?

Write an essay either about your personal viewing experience of a hard film or an essay about why we must continue to tell these stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment