Still, British Steve McQueen’s “12 Years of Slavery” is probably the best film about the American slaveholding system ever made. Perhaps not so much shocking, as we’ve seen it all before, as a poignant, emotional, and touching historical drama filmed based on the memoirs of a man born as a free man in the North to end up as a slave in the American South. This film won three Oscars – the most important or for the best film, Lupita Nyongo was awarded for supporting actress, while John Ridley, who wrote the screenplay based on the memoirs of Solom Northup, was awarded for the adapted screenplay. He had “12 Years a Slave” six more nominations, among them for best director and supporting and lead actor.
And just as the film was directed by a dark-skinned Briton (McQueen is originally from the Caribbean), the role of Solomon was played by dark-skinned Briton Chiwetel Ejiofor (he is originally from Nigeria). And as the name suggests, the unfortunate Solomon is a free man living with his family in the New York area, a violinist who will be fraudulently abducted and sold into slavery in South America. The plot of the film begins in 1841, which means at a time when the slave-owning system in the American South was at its peak and in the years when the industrialized north was only shyly beginning to think that slavery should be abolished. But slave labor in the south is still the main driver of the economy of the south and all these unfortunate blacks whose ancestors came to America somewhere from Africa in chains in inhumane conditions work on plantations.
McQueen’s film is also impressive because it brings this horrible, completely unimaginable human drama without any melodrama or pathos. “12 years of slavery” could be described as a sobering, meditative, but also poetic drama in which we see all the horrors of slavery in an extremely realistic way and realize how wrong and evil it was. The characters are great too and we can see that not all whites from the south were the same, but almost all of them had in common that it was in their heads that slavery is something natural and that black slaves are not human. It is clear to us with this film how these unfortunate people were really reduced to the level of cattle, property and that white bosses could work with them literally whatever they wanted.
Precisely for the sake of shock and disbelief, without any embellishment or self-censorship to bring life closer to 19th century American South, McQueen decided to shoot “12 Years of Slavery” in almost the same style as the prison drama “Hunger” in Northern Ireland. Everything we see, all these life horrors and unimaginable horrors that the characters go through, are almost in conflict with the gentle, poetic, almost meditative style with which McQueen made both films. Along with Ejiofor, who is as great as Solomon, McQueen got the best out of the whole platoon of celebrities who embodied some episodic roles.
From Paul Giamatti as a slave trader from New Orleans, Benedict Cumberbatch as the first Solomon owner who seems to feel that slavery is evil but doesn’t have the guts to do something and because it is, he is cruel to slaves too. To Michael Fassbender as a typical sadistic cracker, a completely insane maniac who indulges his slaves and in alcohol as if subconsciously trying to drown shame, anger and self-hatred for being like that. It’s a wonderful story because unlike the other slaves he will spend years with on the plantations, Solomon is a man who knows what freedom is and is aware that he has lost it. But it is also an impressive humanistic drama about a man who never wanted or could come to terms with the fate that befell him and who believed that one day he would return to his family.
MORE MOVIE REVIEWS: HUSTLE (2022, USA) Movie review, plot, trailer, rating: