12 Years a Slave starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, SarahPaulson, Brad Pitt, and Alfre Woodard. In theaters Friday, October 18th.
Based on a true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist forever alters his life.
Black journalist, Orville Lloyd Douglas of TheGuardian says he’s not too interested in catching this film;
“As a black person, I can honestly say I am exhausted and bored with these kinds of ‘dramatic race’ films. I’m convinced these black race films are created for a white, liberal film audience to engender white guilt and make them feel bad about themselves. Regardless of your race, these films are unlikely to teach you anything you don’t already know. Frankly, why can’t black people get over slavery? Or, at least, why doesn’t anyone want to see more contemporary portrayals of black lives? “
I can understand his point. No doubt that movies like this may elicit feelings of guilt in white people. I have white friends who ask me “Why can’t black people just get over slavery? That was hundreds of years ago!”. And I can feel that they truly want to get past the ugly, shamefulness of people who looked like them relegating people who looked like me, a dear friend, to chattel. But it did happen.
And it happened in a place not far away but right here, in this place and space that we’re in right now. Four generations is not that long ago when you break it down from great-great grandparents to grandparents.
The African – American story is as important and as relevant a story as any other race’s in this country. Instead of guilt, try just respecting that heritage. And while we’re at it, respect the Native – American, Asian – American, Latino – American and every other dash American whose stories get minimized and trivialized when the history of the United States is told.
No one is naive enough to think that any hardcore racists will find their way into theatres to watch this movie. But maybe such ‘dramatic race films’ will cause people, black and white, who are ‘liberal’ mainly at face value — you know, the ones who think that blacks should just “get over that slavery stuff” — to utilize films like ’12 Years’ as an exercise to examine the various ways in which racism is entrenched in this country, and to understand how it draws parallels with how things are right now. Particularly over the last 5 years, as many Americans continue to have a difficult time ‘adjusting’ to the idea of an African-American as POTUS.
But that of course is your prerogative. No guilt, no pressure.