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.
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.