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Twelve Years A Slave Movie Review....
12-Years-A-Slave Movie Review…
When I was thirteen years old or so, on the Island of Saint Kitts, a local Calypsonian, who went by the stage name, ‘Star Shield,’ competed and won the competition with a song about Slavery… and I still remember the poignant, anthem-like, moving lyrics from the song’s refrain:
The cracking of the Whip
The beating of the drums
The harsh words of the Planta-man
The transport of people to distant land
It’s still on my mind….
O, how can I forget…
The gut wrenching movie, “Twelve-Years-A-Slave,” brought back to me those timely lyrics that capture the malignant cancer and its lingering vestiges that was Slavery. The tragedy that is Twelve Years A slave would still be painfully visceral even if it were fiction and concocted by some noted, gifted author - but, alas, the woes are frighteningly true… because it is based on what happened to Solomon Northup, a gifted violinist, and freed slave, residing in Saratoga, New York. Solomon - played masterfully by British actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor - is happily married, making a living as a violinist, and far removed from Slavery when he is propositioned with a deal of a life time. Solomon, thinking of his wife and children, gladly takes the deal, which involved playing his music for more lucrative earnings in Washington, D.C.
Like most schemes that are too good to be true, Solomon’s new gig was not only too good to be true, but it resulted in his kidnapping and being sold into Slavery; imagined, someone who is accustomed to the benisons of freedom and then to wake up shackled and being forced to strip naked and sold to the highest bidder at a slave auction. And, when Solomon protested about being a freed slave, and, ironically, doing so by speaking better English than his would-be Slave masters, he is brutally beaten for voicing his opinion and for his general ‘uppityness.’ It is quite a scene to see the slave auctions, which is among many scenes, that are so realistic and shocking due to the fact that the writing, directing, and acting in Twelve-Years-A-Slave are so well done that it is akin to reading an author, in his or her tome, describing peeling an orange, and you, the reader, having your mouth water.
Twelve-Years-A-Slave is rife with ironies and in watching the movie, one realizes why Slavery was called the ‘Peculiar Institution.’ Take for instance, Solomon’s first owner, played by Benedict Cumberbatch of Star Trek Into Darkness fame, he is a benevolent Slave owner - oxymoron intended – and Solomon, almost giving up hope, is Jesus happy about his slave owner… but even when the Cumberbatch’s character shows sympathy by gifting Solomon with a violin, the Slave owner in presenting the musical gift says that he hopes that Solomon plays it for him for years to come. Strange as it sounds, Solomon would have been happy with Cumberbatch - but because of circumstances, whereby, Solomon put a beat down on a Slave foreman, he is then sold to another owner, Michael Fassbender, who plays his role with such uncompromised wicked vileness that if I were Mr. Fassbender, I would stay out of 'the hood' for quite a while.
Fassbender’s character plantation is so dysfunctional, to say the least, with his slaves taking the brunt of he and his wife - the latter played by Sarah Paulson - every sick, twisted whim… that Solomon is soon wishing that he was back with his initial Slave owner. But no one suffers more than a female Slave, played by newcomer, Lupita Nyongo; her character was born and bred on Fassbender’s plantation and she more than meets the quota of the cotton picking output, which happens to double that of the male Slaves. Lupita is in that catch twenty-two situation where she has to please her master, which includes in the bedroom and placing her in the cross hairs of the master’s wife. There is a scene whereby the slaves are awaken in the wee hours - an apparent custom - to dance for the master, this after putting in hours of hard labor on the plantation, and Lupica wanting to please her master, gets into the sensual dancing, which resulted in irritating the wife because the latter’s husband is visibly ‘turned on.’ Speaking of the master’s wife… she is the typical Southern Belle… dripping with sarcasm, and thinking that she can walk on water even when she is supposedly teaching Solomon and in said teaching… butchering the English language by telling Solomon twice that he should ’learn’ his fellow Slaves, instead of saying, ‘teach’ them.
Lupica Nyongo’s character is what everyone who sees this movie will be talking about because she blows everyone away and not only is she going to be nominated for an Oscar, but she is going to win: watch Miss Nyongo’s face as she negotiates a way to please her Slave master/lover, while in his wife’s presence or when she asks Solomon to kill her because of the terrible situation that she’s in and believing that suicide is morally wrong, tries to get around it via a technicality by asking Solomon to off her. Miss Nyongo’s character goes through several vicious beating by her master - call it an Antebellum version of defacto domestic violence between a slave and her master… but during one such beating, Solomon is asked to help to whip Miss Nyongo’s character and when the literal flesh tearing whipping is done, there is that look between Nyongo and Solomon and without her saying it, Solomon knows that she is saying with her eyes that he should have killed her when she asked him to.
I can write a Dissertation praising the movie, Twelve-Years-A-Slave because all of the lessons of Slavery are front and center… without the lying balm of Political Correctness. One can see the origin of the Negro spirituals being sung when the slaves were working; one can see how some of the Bible verses were deliberately perverted and used to perpetuate Slavery; one can see the vicious chasm created by the slave owners between those Blacks who are macaroni-cheese-yellow in color as opposed to those whose hues are darker; one can see the hypocritical irony of calling Slaves animals, yet yearning to get into the female slaves' beds; and one can see Billie Holiday’s lyrics come to life when she sings that… the Southern trees bear a strange fruit.…
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.