One of the perks of this here “for the people” writing gig thing is that once you create a name for yourself, people come to you to help spread the word about any number of things. We get LOTS of pitches for stuff, good and bad. Well, for myself, the numerous movie screening invites and Q&A’s that go with them is gangbusters. I can’t tell you how many movies I’ve gone to see in this fashion. Truly I don’t even view them as “screenings” at this point, it’s just going to the movies because it seems like everybody and their grandmother is at these things.
Such brings me to this past evening when I had the…pleasure isn’t the right word…but the fortune to attend the movie screening for 12 Years A Slave, the movie based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free Black man who found himself enslaved during a visit out of his home state of New York. You can imagine what the movie is about, so there’s very little need to discuss the plot. I mean…after Snakes On A Plane, 12 Years A Slave has to be one of the most appropos and telling movie titles ever. It is also the title of the book written by Solomon Northrup upon which the movie is based.
So let’s talk about feelings instead.
Quality art elicits some sort of feeling, good or bad. When you are provided with art that makes you feel no type of way, well that is a waste. Think, hotel art. 12 Years A Slave will elicit feelings. And a lot of them. Where Django Unchained looked at slavery but provided enough humor, both intentional unintentional, to not make you overly uncomfortable, 12 Years goes straight for the jugular. If you don’t leave the movie feeling something…well you are a robot.
Here’s the interesting part though…it ain’t no Rosewood. My first ever viewing of Rosewood happened when I was in high school and I can still remember how I felt watching that movie. The visceral disdain I had for white America at that moment was so real I had to move myself to the back of the house I was in for at least half an hour just to calm down.
Mind you, I was at the home of my caucasian mother and step-father at the time. Perhaps because I’ve seen so many movies about slavery at this point, and each one attempts to go where the previous one didn’t go visually, I’ve become somewhat desensitized to what I know is going to be seen on screen. It’s a movie about slavery…and this one specifically goes the hardship route. I mean this man was free and became a slave, erroneously…that’s just wrong, kicko. So the laughs are few and far between on purpose. But even being desensitized, it was still hard to watch a lot of the scenes just because…whips and chains, homey.
Going into it, I was expecting Rosewood in terms of my emotions, and I just didn’t get that. But I did have the same stress level watching it because of just how ridiculous the idea was to begin with. It was a stark reminder that as a Black person, your life was only as valuable as the decisions of the white people within reach – a lesson we’re still dealing with to this day. Rep. John Lewis is often quoted as saying that anybody who says that we haven’t seen progress need only walk in his shoes. And he’s right, we have come a long, long way. But its the basic principles that have remained the same. The methods are different, but many outcomes are the same.
Chiwetel Ejiofor did a great job as Solomon and he’s one of really only three individuals with any sort of real character development in the entire movie. There are some scenes and some quotes that will absolutely hurt to see and hear, and to some degree, I almost think that was the point.
Did you see The Passion Of The Christ? I have seen it once. Never had a desire to see it again. I feel similarly about 12 Years. And similar to The Passion, I’m not sure its a good movie. It almost wasn’t intended to be. Django was a love story. Rosewood was a story about survival. Roots was a docu-drama where the words, “The African” got thrown around more than a Saturday on Canal Street in NYC. 12 Years was a story about loneliness and perseverance, though not in the way you would expect. While I’m sure the movie intends to give you a glimpse at the human spirit in the face of adversity, let’s be real, this man’s story is as unique as they come, and even in the movie, you basically saw him get broken to the point of nearly giving up, but a little bit of luck changed his circumstance. But the portrayal of it in the movie almost seemed a bit forced. That doesn’t change the fact that the story of Solomon Northrup did end positively. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s like the ONLY cat to have that story end that way after being wrongfully “returned” to slavery.
Funny enough, while I definitely got pissed all over again at slavery and the institution whiteness of America that perpetuated I wasn’t nearly as pissed as I was at Rosewood. It’s still maintained its gold standard. And do you know how I know I wasn’t as pissed? The movie theater where I saw 12 Years is adjacent to the Verizon Center in downtown DC. Tonight was a Washington Capitals hockey game. I walked out of the theater and right into a street full of hockey fans. And I just moseyed on to my car with nary a death glare or stern facial expression towards anybody.
Should you go see it? Yes. You should. It will be one of those movies that moves you in some direction which again, is the mark of good art. It will make you feel something even if its just stress or exhaustion because there are a few scenes that will emotionally do that to you. Shouts to Patsy.
12 Years A Slave is in theaters tomorrow.
-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. I COULDN’T DO NO 12 YEARS OR 12 MINUTES aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3