i love that the 104th top ten goes
After seeing Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, I walked out of the theatre with both the movie, and the reviews I read about the movie beforehand, weighing heavily on my mind. The reviews had heralded it a masterpiece BUT, the critics said, the ending was anti-climatic. It lacked the emotional punch of the triumphant human spirit. The critics were right, I thought.
As I thought some more though, I realized the critics were wrong in this regard. 12 Years A Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), adapted by his own accounts of these events by John Ridley. It begins with Solomon being ripped from his family and home, and ends with Solomon rejoining his family in their home. In between we will witness him fight his predicament, be beaten down, fight again, be beaten down some more, fight again, until finally he breaks and accepts that he is in fact a slave. But, in the end he escapes and returns home to his family in a scene that had me in tears.
How is this anti-climatic? Simple. It’s fucked up when you stop and think about it. The reason why this story about a free black man, who goes through unmitigated hell, gives up and loses all hope, only to be released and rejoined with his wife and kids after TWELVE years is considered by critics, white critics, to be anti-climatic, or just missing some emotional oomph, is because there’s no cookie for white people at the end.
As white movie goers we are accustomed, when it comes to movies about slavery, to have at the end the abolition of slavery, or at the very least an act that signifies a clear path to the abolition of slavery. Some movies even take place during the Civil War and act like the North wanted to free slaves and that’s why they were fighting. In other words in movies about slavery, made by white people, there is a sort of “Hey. We fucked up. Our bad. But hey, we helped out in the end. Are we not merciful? Didn’t we save you in the end?”
McQueen does not do this. In fact McQueen and Ridley do something so daring that they it will surely cost them any chance of being nominated for an Academy Award. They shoot the entire movie from Solomon’s point of view and in doing so force white people for the first time in my generation, to identify with a black character. A slave.
Early on Solomon is told by another slave not to reveal to anyone he can read or write, or they will beat him for being uppity. Repeatedly throughout the film Solomon tries to seek help from the white people that surround him. There are no white saviors in this movie.
There are no cookies at the end. This happened. There is a happy ending for Solomon, but it’s mired by all that came before it. It doesn’t forgive, and I think that’s what has white critics saying the ending lacks ‘something’. Well, pardon my Missouri roots for showing, but ya’ll can go fuck yourselves. There is no cookie for us at the end, and there shouldn’t be. 12 Years A Slave is a masterpiece from start to finish. I could go on some more but I fear I’m near to overstaying my welcome. It’s a must see. It’s that simple.