12_Years_A_Slave12 Years A Slave documents the ordeal of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a free Black man from Saratoga Springs, New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South.

Solomon’s story represents the experience of every slave who was brought to the United States in chains, born into bondage, separated from family, beaten, sold and raped. Yet, the fact that Solomon had always been a free man serves as a stark illustration of the complete injustice and insanity of enslavement because he has lived as a productive citizen who is the equal, if not better, of any man.

Solomon, a highly intelligent and educated man who plays the violin is forced to hide the fact that he can read and write in order to survive as it’s forbidden for slaves to have such knowledge. Determined to be reunited with his wife and two children Solomon resolves to do whatever it takes to stay alive and refuses to give into desperation despite the relentless cruelty of his circumstances.

The brutality on screen in 12 Years A Slave seems unreal, at times so harsh that it’s difficult to process or comprehend. Yet this is the violent history of our country that still resonates today.

Solomon ends up on the plantation of Edwin Epps. Michael Fassbender is the alcoholic, bible quoting slave owner Edwin Epps and incredibly he manages to make this man at once cruel, comical, pathetic and hateful.

It’s on the Epps plantation that Solomon meets Patsy (Lupita Nyong’o) who is “favored” by Epps, which unfortunately means she incurs his increased scrutiny and his wife’s hatred. Nyong’o is utterly heartbreaking as a woman who knows that death is most likely her only way out of the everyday torment she must endure.

Ejiofor, long one of my favorite actors, fully embodies Solomon, conveying all of his conflicting emotions–bewilderment, outrage, sense of injustice and finally an unshakeable will to live.

Sarah Paulson as Epps’ wife demonstrates the complicity of Southern women in the atrocities that took place and at the same time their lack of power and options.

Steve McQueen directs with a sure hand. Every shot and scene has purpose and meaning. The cinematography matches McQueen’s vision. There are breathtaking visuals of a low-hanging full moon and blue sky dotted with clouds that contrast the beauty of the landscape with the undeniable ugliness of slavery.

The music, which can sometimes overwhelm in historical and period dramas provides a balanced undertone to the darkness of the subject matter.

12 Years A Slave is an unflinching look at the evils of slavery and the film makes no concessions to spare us the reality of this immoral and vicious system that not only destroyed slave families but tore at the fabric of plantation owning families and the heart of our democracy and government. For how could you call yourself God-fearing yet own another human being, a family man when you separated children form their parents, a good husband when you raped females slaves, and a country where all men are created equal when only white men had any rights under the law.

12 Years A Slave makes us look straight on at our violent history and makes us see that what happened can never be wiped away or forgotten but it must be overcome.

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