Two days after seeing “12 Years a Slave,” scenes from the movie still play over and over in my mind. I’m not entirely sure that I needed to see two hours of the chilling varieties of inhumanity Blacks in slavery endured for hundreds of years. Though it’s a mostly accurate depiction of Solomon Northrup’s 1835 memoir of being abducted into slavery after years as a free black man, my soul is having a hard time finding any redeeming value in the movie.

I did appreciate the stellar acting from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and Brad Pitt as well as the artistry of British director Steve McQueen, but “12 Years a Slave” hardly counts as “entertainment” in the general sense. For me, the truth about the brutal physical and psychological conditions of slavery is nothing new.

I’ve read much of the history and fully understand its devastating impact on not just those who came before us, but those who are still dealing with its legacy. For people, Black and white, who don’t have a sense of the profound dehumanization Africans endured in the slave trade, “12 Years A Slave” may be an eye-opening experience.

For others, the movie may just be too much to take. There are some folks who may be affected by it more than others and for those as I outline here, I suggest exercising some caution. Here’s a list of the people who may want to think hard about whether or not they want to see the film.

1. Children

Elementary school age children are exposed to a lot of things at young ages, but this is a particularly difficult film for many adults to take, much less a child. I would not recommend this for any child under 13 unless the child is sufficiently prepared and wise well beyond their years and even then, I’d say give them time. Teenagers will understand the movie’s underlying themes much more and may not be as traumatized by the searing brutality.

2. Sexual assault and domestic violence victims

Although the movie is the true story of Northrup’s 12 year ordeal after he was  tricked and abducted into slavery, the most powerful storyline in “12 Years a Slave” is that of the women who are victimized, subjugated and raped. Women have no agency in slavery – no control of their bodies, their daily lives or even their children. The Patsey storyline is central to the film and its most disturbing element. For those who have already been traumatized by abuse or any mother who has lost or been forcibly separated from her children, there are several scenes that will be very, very hard to take.

3. People currently dealing with overt racism

If you are in a job or a situation where you are the overt victim of racism but don’t feel that you are in position to protest or leave “12 Years a Slave” could feel like an exacerbation of the conditions you’re already dealing with. As Paula Deen showed us, racism is still alive and well in the American workplace and for those dealing with it everyday, the emotions this movie will likely evoke may feel like even more punishment.

4. Interracial couples

“12 Years a Slave” may not make for the most comfortable post-film conversation even amongst the most comfortable, enlightened interracial couples where the man is white and the woman is Black. Of course, if you’re in a solid, longstanding interracial relationship or marriage, you may have had some of those discussions already and have comes to terms with the history of white male sexual exploitation of Black female slaves. Or that issue may have never come up. But let’s be clear, this is not a date movie for interracial couples in a new relationship, one that’s already shaky or where no discussion of race has ever been had. See it only if you are solid and comfortable and you have a relationship that can withstand any visceral emotional reactions.

5. Sensitive people

Are you the kind of person who cries at Hallmark commercials, wants to save stray animals and people and is a sucker for every sob story or hard luck tale? Then I would suggest that if you do choose to see the movie, you take some reinforcements in the shape of kind and caring friends with you. The ill treatment Black slaves dealt with for hundreds of years is on full display in “12 Years a Slave” and for some people, watching two hours of it will be an extremely challenging experience. Watch it if you believe you should, but take friends and tissues with you.

Read our review here. 

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9 thoughts on “’12 Years a Slave’: Can You Handle It?

  1. Go for someone who’s successful and observe them closely. Keaton is without question Anime’s greatest detective and he’s so much more besides. The aim of this article is to provide you more information on the job prospect after a culinary art training. You will need a program that will help you to transfer custom s from the internet to your PC version of Guitar Hero.

  2. A few years ago I while a Deputy Seriff in the city of Detroit, one day while working in the jail I sat down and wrote this poem as I looked around and thought about our people;

    ” I watched with shock and with rage, as the actors were lead upon the stage. How were they chosen for their roles, was it because the producers had no souls? The cast was many not just a few, it was an african multitude. No one wanted a scene to steal, because this play was titled “400 Year Ordeal”. Their roles were numerous they played them well, one day the producers will review it in Hell! There was no applause or standing ovations, only the crack of the whip to show audience participation. The actors reached for their star, so that north it would take them away from the horror. And even though the play was shut down, the influences of it are still around”. by Emery W. O. Hampton

    After listening to what the subject matter of this movie was about I felt that this poem was appropriate, because it touches upon what we all know, that the influences of slavery still affect the children of those who came before us!

  3. what is it about our story that makes certain people squirm? It is not going to go away if you don’t watch it.This is ONE of the stories you need to know as Americans. I would suggest that you stop asking why we are still angry and read a few books.I don’t wonder at all why our history is not taught in schools.I don’t wonder at all why this movie is in limited release.If you don’t know your past, you will continue to think that you were not descendants of kings and queens and slaves.and slave owners. I nearly DIED when I heard a couple of young Black women at a showing of The Help say ” I can’t believe they treated THEM like that.” THEY? If you think it is hard to watch your history, how hard do you think it was to live in those times? We owe a debt of GRATITUDE to our ANCESTORS who LIVED some of your worse nightmares. “WAKE UPPPPPPP!”

  4. I would think almost every black and white American should see this film, because it’s truth and part of the history of this country. This movie may help inform about the roots of race as a social construct and about the complex relationship between blacks and whites and between blacks and blacks too. To any who “feel” they may be uncomfortable, that’s probably true, but all of us who are African-American came from those who worked in the fields and they had feelings too. After surviving a trip that killed many they were forced into labor to help build this country. It did not matter whether they wanted to do the work, or endure the suffering that they did. They endured so that they could live, and because they lived, we are here.

  5. All black people need to watch the film especially, children, interracial couples, and domestic violent victims. This film displays the reality of black suffering too many of us want to gloss over our history and live in an alternate reality. We as a people like to pretend that we have come so far but we have not black feminist really need to see this film so they can see that the black man did not oppress you and is not your enemy. When black people say they don’t want to watch this film because of the content all they are saying is they don’t want their fantasy interrupted. You will never see Jews say don’t watch a film about the holocaust we have to stop trying to run from our past so we can see how we got in the condition we are in. Watch this film and then see the sense of shame you will feel when you see BBW, scandal, young men sagging there pants or a lil wayne video.

  6. 55th st silverbacks on said:

    with the current climate of violence in my community (chicago englewood) any shocking images of africans in bondage and suffering in my opinion should be part of a method to reach our youth.i speak with as many young men in my area concerning history primarily chicago’s history. it offers insight. and we as a people are desperate for a way to reach OUR children. I BELIEVE A RIGHTEOUS MIND FREE OF THE “CONDITIONING” THAT WE SUFFER FROM is needed to awaken us from the spiral of genocide we are now a part of.

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