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Arts and Entertainment

‘Slave’ worthy of buzz
Drama a more honest portrayal of slavery
Published Thursday, November 7, 2013 7:03 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

Best Picture Oscar frontrunner “12 Years a Slave” is directed by Steve McQueen and tells the narrative of Solomon Northup, a New York citizen who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and enslaved until 1853, when he was rescued from a cotton field near the Red River in Louisiana. 

Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) goes to bed a free man and wakes up chained and stripped of all his rights, including the right to be called by his own name. During his ordeal, Northup struggles to keep his dignity in the face inhumane cruelty and brutality. In the twelfth year of his captivity, Northup has a life-altering encounter with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt).

John Ridley wrote the screenplay for the movie, which was based on a book of the same name written by Northup. 



For the first time in popular culture, this movie addresses a few of the many often-untold truths about slavery, such as the fact that not all slaves came directly from Africa. A significant number were actually free black families who had been kidnapped in America and enslaved. 

It also shows different aspects of slave life, such as how often the female slave who had “the favor” of the master was sometimes treated in the way that a mistress of today would be – put up in a separate living quarters, sometimes excused from heavy labor, spared from whippings and some even had servants of their own.

In contrast with many slave movies where African-Americans and slaves are often depicted as simple and ignorant, this movie portrays many as articulate and well-read. 

It makes it easier for the viewer – black or white – to relate to them in a way that makes you see them as not just slaves, but men and women who were enslaved. Combined with the phenomenal acting, you walk away from the theater feeling like you have personally met each of the characters and taken a piece of them along with you.



Some viewers took issue with minor details, such as one scene where slaves were given forks to use because slaves had to eat without utensils.

However, I’m having a hard time finding something bad to say about the movie, other than there was a scene near the end of the film where Ejiofor, who plays Northup, is standing in a cotton field and looks into the camera for several moments without saying a word. I’m sure this was some artistic way of trying to elicit some emotion, but I’m not sure exactly what. It just seemed awkward.

I can also say that my heart went out to one of the other slaves Northup encounters. Her name is Patsy. I was more touched by her story than Northup’s and hoped that her story would have had a better ending.


Overall, I think this movie was excellent. The acting was amazing. The cinematography was on point, and I can definitely see why the Oscar buzz for this film is so strong.



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