'12 Years a Slave' is a necessary, if stiff, look at the history of slavery

'12' stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free black American who is kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Fox Searchlight Films/AP
Michael Fassbender (l.), Lupita Nyong'o (center), and Chiwetel Ejiofor (r.) star in '12 Years A Slave.'

Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black American who was kidnapped from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1841 and sold into slavery, Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” written by John Ridley and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a necessary corrective to the antics of “Django Unchained,” not to mention “Mandingo” and its ilk. Why have there been so few Hollywood movies about slavery, and why did it take a British director to make this one?

Having said that, I wish the truly searing moments in this film were not continually counterbalanced by an overall historical-reenactment stiffness in the presentation. McQueen stages tableaux vivants. As in his other movies, “Shame” and “Hunger,” he makes artworks about the rending of the flesh. The large cast includes Michael Fassbender as a particularly odious slave owner, Brad Pitt in a cameo as the Good White Guy, and the remarkable Lupita Nyong’o as a young slave girl whose suffering embodies the obscenity of the institution. Grade: B (Rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity, and brief sexuality.)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to '12 Years a Slave' is a necessary, if stiff, look at the history of slavery
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today