12 Years a Slave is the best film I’ve thus far in 2013. It is the third film from British filmmaker Steve McQueen who continues to be one of the most talented directors living today. His knack for powerful framing and camera movement that reflects the nature of the scene is uncanny. He’s also unique in the way he continuously makes films about the human soul through stories of physical trauma and struggle.
12 Years a Slave is important in the way that it confronts the harsh truths about this country’s history. Specifically, the truth, as Jim Wallis eloquently states, that “America was established as a white society, founded upon the near genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another.”
The horror done to the characters in this film all actually took place and what the film’s protagonist, Solomon Northup, experiences for twelve years many experienced their entire lives.
For some critics, including A.O. Scott, 12 Years a Slave is a film that has the power and ability to bring honest reflection and dialogue about race relations in the past and present United States.
And in a year with both the Trevyon Martin and Renisha McBride tragedies we desperately need to have these conversations. Conversations about how our legacy of slavery still affects our society, institutions, and personal lives.
On a deeper level though 12 Years a Slave is about more than just America’s dark past. It is about Solomon slowly loosing shreds of hope and loosing himself through the brutality of slavery. The question posed by the film is this: how much emotional and bodily harm can one endure before one becomes dead on the inside? The same question is asked in previous McQueen films Hunger and Shame.
Like any great film it has produced a variety of responses from theologians, feminists, critics, and theorists. Some uphold the film exploring its nuances while others point out potential problems within the narrative. All of it is really thought provoking. So here are a few links to these articles. I don’t agree with all of them, but find all of them thought provoking and worth reading.
Check it out!
Criticisms of the film (Spoiler Alert)
The Problem With 12 Years a Slave’s Basic Premise by Peter Malamud Smith at Slate
Is ’12 Years a Slave’ Too Safe to Transform its Audiences? by Roya Rastegar at Indiewire
Well Written Reviews and Interesting Interpretations
Never Ending Story by A.O. Scott at the New York Times
The Blood and Tears, Not the Magnolias by Manohla Dargis at the New York Times
Body Politics in the Films of Steve McQueen by Brett Mccraken at Mere Orthodoxy
Feminist and Theological Reflections on the Film
The Most Controversial Sentence I Ever Wrote by Jim Wallis at Sojourners
’12 Years a Slave’, An Eternity for Women by Jennifer Crumpton at Patheos
12 Years A Slave and the Cross of Christ by Bo Sanders at Homebrewed Christianity