Updated: Monday, 6th July 2020 @ 6:52pm

Cinema review: 12 Years a Slave

Cinema review: 12 Years a Slave

By Rachel Buckley

‘I don’t want to survive, I want to live’.

As Chiwetel Ejiofor’s delivers arguably the most powerful line in Steve McQueen’s masterful 12 Years a Slave the true possibility of humanity’s inhumanity begins to hit home.

Based on true events, the film follows the story of husband and father of two, Solomon Northup, a free man living in pre-Civil War America who is abducted and sold into slavery.

Solomon suffers cruelly under his masters and is repeatedly betrayed by those he chooses to confide in and seek aid from.

McQueen and a top cast – Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender to name just a few – have created a powerful representation of 19th century racial oppression.

Throughout the film McQueen cleverly weaves between the protagonist’s slavery in New Orleans and his free life in New York creating a juxtaposition that begs the question ‘how can such unfairness be allowed?’

One striking element to the narrative is the theme of religion, which comes in the form of biblical readings and the slaves singing praises while working.

The hypocrisy in the masters’ biblical sanctity is powerfully contrasted with the attitude of the slaves, who continue to worship despite the barbaric conditions they find themselves in.

Lupita Nyong’o provides a spectacular portrayal of Patsey, a young female slave on the same plantation as Solomon, who is sexually and physically abused by their master Edwin Epps (Fassbender).

One harrowing scene sees Epps forcing Solomon to whip Patsey because she left the plantation to buy soap.

While brutality litters the film the scene is inhumane to the extreme and so genuine in its execution that it becomes engrained in the mind.

While Ejiofor’s performance is bafflingly good McQueen allows others to shine and non-more so than Patsey.

The exploration of the harrowing yet tragically common objectification of black women by their white masters who believe they have the right to treat their ‘property’ as they wish makes ‘12 years’ a truly visceral experience.

While the terrors and brutal reality of slavery are embodied in Fassbender’s performance it is Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Samuel Bass that brings hope.

“It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and black alike,” Bass says to Epps in a moment packed with emotion.

During Oscar season it is sometimes difficult to look through the hype and buzz of a film without thinking about who might win what.

However, McQueen creates such a horrifically real representation of a cruel world that is all too close to our own that concentrating on anything  but the possibilities of human evil and endless hope is all but impossible. 

Image courtesy of Fox Searchlight via YouTube, with thanks

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