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12 Years a Slave Movie Review and Plot Analysis

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“Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery, and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.” Steve McQueen

12 Years A Slave movie this is what I chose for review. The two hour movie is based on a book that was published in 1853. The book was written by David Wilson, a lawyer/author. The setting of the movie took place in Louisiana and New York. I chose to watch this movie because my grandmother gifted me with the book my freshman year. I was also interested in the book and movie because it deals with chattel slavery which we discussed in class. It also sparked my interest because the majority of my relatives are from Louisiana. I felt it would provide me with a visual representation and better understanding of the experiences minorities had during this time.

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The movie was released in 2013 and covers events that started in 1841. The main character is Solomon Northup. Solomon was a free black man that lived in upstate New York, he was married with three children. Solomon was lured and kidnapped into slavery. Solomon was around thirty three when two white men offered him a job making great profit. Solomon and other minorities were sent to Louisiana on a boat where they were later sold. Solomon was sold for one thousand dollars to a cotton plantation owner. The owner changed Solomon’s name to Platt. In my opinion, this movie was worse than any horror movie I have ever watched. Their means into getting Solomon to accept his new identity was inhumane. My emotions were all over the place watching this movie.

“With the paddle, Burch asked if I still insisted I was a free man. I did insist upon it, and then the blows were renewed, faster and more energetically, if possible, than before.-Solomon Northup.

The historical context to “Twelve Years A Slave” was due to the trading of goods. Plantation owners need faster ways to harvest crops without using machines. The owners started forcing labor on people by selling them. Europeans had always considered Africans and Native Americans as savage and uncivilized. The Southern colonies had their slaves work outside in the farms for long hours daily. The sad truth is that slaves were often viewed as expensive livestock. The laws in the south during this time did not protect the slaves.

The movie is historically accurate. I believe it represented slavery accurately. There were a few scenes that I think did not occur. For example before being kidnapped it appeared that Solomon was rich and accepted by the whites. I think the director did this to show a distinction between the life of a free black person that lived in the North compared to one in the South. It gives the viewer an idea of what life was like in the South under a good master  and under a ruthless one. It depicts the real life battle that Solomon Northup encountered. During the movie you see his will to live and get his freedom back. Then it seems that Solomon loses all hope after twelve years. It also shows the way women were separated from their families and children. Their feelings were not regarded and they endured sexual abuse from their master. I think McQueen wanted to educate the viewers of what took place. I disliked that the masters would force slaves to abuse other slaves. It was gut-wrenching to watch Platt being forced to whip Patsey naked and helpless and she screamed in pain. It also showed how slaves leaving their plantations had to have a written permission, in case a white patroller saw them. I also realized how women in general were not respected. Mr. Epps disrespected his wife in front of the slaves. Mr. Epps was also sexually abusing Patsey and the wife was aware. Instead of Mrs. Epps being upset or chastising her husband, she went out of her way to persecute Patsey, which is what many of the wives did during this time. Patsey’s back had scars from all the beatings she endured. Mrs. Epps’ jealousy allowed her to enjoy seeing Patsey suffer.

The movie was good but also emotionally draining for me. The messages were powerful but at the same time heartbreaking. It was very hard to watch the brutal scenes where humans are beaten and women are raped. When he breaks the violin that had his family’s name on it I felt as if he had given up. I felt his pain and despair because he wouldn’t see his family again. I just find it scary to think that people’s attitudes were okay with folks being shackled and being forced to work in deplorable conditions, and being beaten until they are near death. Then thanks to Bass an abolitionist from Canada, who makes Solomon’s friends aware of his location and comes to get him. I remember smiling when Solomon is emancipated from the cruel Edwin Epps. I also remember getting upset that James Burch was not punished for his role in kidnapping Solomon. It was very heartwarming to see that his daughter had named her son in his honor.

In closing, McQueen directed this movie in a way that the viewers would almost feel the pain and despair of the slaves. He also did an excellent job of showing how slaves were seen as property. I said several times while watching the movie that I could not have lived during that time. The strength the women displayed while being raped but continuing to be a mother, nanny, and field hand was unbelievable. In 2018 slavery still exists not only in the U.S. but every country of the world. There are still people being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Most of the victims are young girls and women that are forced to be a prostitute profiting others. This behavior is also chattel slavery. Modern day slavery is more about controlling or exploiting someone and not allowing them to leave. There are still children working in sweatshops, young girls being forced to marry older men, and illegal immigrants forced to work in agriculture or construction for little or nothing. 

I feel just like during the time of chattel slavery the government is aware of what’s going on but are not doing anything to protect those that are being forced into slavery. We see cases of human trafficking on the news and are aware of minor children being forced to work but what’s been implemented to stop it? Is the government benefiting from this? In order for this cruelty to stop certain procedures and stricter laws and consequences must be in place. 

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