Thesis statement for ‘12 years a slave’ film can be stated as “the skin color does not demonstrate capabilities, capacity, personality or abilities and no matter who the slave is it has mental as well as physical effects.” One would like to put it that ‘slavery as a moral cancer which is man’s inhumanity to man affecting the inherent dignity of all humanity.’ The film is about enslavement and abduction of people of African descent during American antebellum time. This is an acknowledgement of the truth and history of America in terms of struggle and survival.
The film is about Northup who was initially a violinist born in New York and later kidnapped to slavery in Washington at age of thirty-three and where he spend 12 years of his life as a slave on a Louisiana cotton plantation.
Initially he is sold to William a slave owner where tensions between him and other plantation workers increase and they try to lynch him only for him to survive after managing to stand on his toes and cheating death. For this, Northup is sold to another brutal...
master called Edwin Epps. Here he meets Patsey who is favored and sometimes raped by the master. Later the Epps plantain has cotton worm infestation and since its impossible to work in the farm he leases some of his slaves to a neighbor plantation for that season. Luckily Northup gains favor with the owner of the farm Turner who allows him to perform for a neighbor’s wedding anniversary and he is also allowed to keep his earned income which he uses to send a mail back to friends back home while at Epp’s only to be betrayed by his supervisor. At Epps they were subjected to hard and humiliating work where they were required to be already in the farm by the time sun rose to shine some light until when it was too dark to see and unlucky they if there was full moon light because they would work until late midnight. This was with an exception of ten or fifteen minutes given to them at midday to swallow their allowance which mostly was cold bacon. The slaves don’t stop at even dinner time, nor go to their shelters however late it seemed until they had such a directive to halt by the driver.
Solomon’s life was although better and eased by the fact that he could play the fiddle and hence provided entertainment to the whites and was constantly urged by the master to play for the fellow slaves to dance. This made him receive privileges denied to the field slaves. Later Northup works in construction with a laborer Samuel Bass who is disturbed by Epp’s brutal treatment of his slaves and hence expresses opinions against him and hence gaining Epp’s enmity. Northup explains everything about his uninformed kidnap to Bass who offers to send a letter for him to New York though very risky. Later someday Northup
is summoned by the local sheriff who had arrived in a carriage and was identified by Northup himself as a shopkeeper in Saratoga back at New York. The sheriff probes into the matter with questions to Northup and he is declared free even though Epp’s furiously protested against it. After 12 year enslavement period Northup gains freedom and leaves behind other slaves including Patsey. When he arrived home he saw his wife, their son, daughter and the new husband who presents him his grandson named exactly after him Solomon Northup Staunton.
Film review by Emily West
Emily West professionally an associate Professor specializing in the history of slavery in America said she had not seen such an accurate presentation of slavery in film. She noted that the film had starkly and powerfully unveiled the sights and sounds of enslavement from them picking cotton as they sang in the fields. She commented that a lot had been heard about the ideology of enslavement. She identified the masters such as William Ford and Edwin Epp’s to show how they are very different characters by using interpretation of Christianity to justify their ownership of slaves and believed that Bible justified slavery and it was their duty to preach the scriptures to their slaves.
Review by Noah Berlatsky
Noah criticized the part where during transportation after Northup’s kidnapping a sailor attempts to rape a female slave but he is stopped by a fellow man. In the film the sailor kills this man protecting the female slave. He critics this saying it seems unlikely in its face because slaves were valuable and sailors could not kill them. Worse, this scene is not in the book too. The producer seemingly fudges some crucial and non-crucial details of the author’s autobiography both intentionally and unintentionally to more completely portray the horrors of slavery.
Reaction to the Film
In my opinion I would say the film is a master art which represents slavery at its best as narrated by the victim. The choice of the costumes and the location I would describe it as also a great complement to bring out the theme of slavery well. Hence I would agree with Emily West that this is a great film which managed to attain its purpose.
The review by Noah Berlatsky about unlikeliness of a sailor killing a slave can be said to be one of the weaknesses in production, although on the other hand it can be taken as one of the additions to bring out the theme of slavery better since it was perpetrated at all levels by the totally free people and who could not be enslaved because they had ‘perfect’ skin color.
‘12 years a slave’ brought out the America’s historical slavery era where I learnt that racism is not only inhuman but also barbarically inefficient. The film contributed to my knowledge too about historical slavery by bringing the past to my today vividly and with liveliness. The film brings out the concept starkly and viscerally. It is an honor to see an artist use film medium for its firm purposes to educate, elevate and out rightly