Why You Need To Watch “12 Years a Slave”

British director Steve McQueen (not to be confused with the legendary American actor) has only released three feature films, but his latest 12 Years A Slave has all that it takes to become the artist’s magnum opus. McQueen’s films always center around men with big issues. He gave notoriety to the now-famous Michael Fassbender, starring in all three of his projects. In 2008’s Hunger, the German-Irish actor played Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer who led a hunger strike and died during it while fighting for his political views. Fassbender stars as Brandon Sullivan, a successful thirtysomething executive who lives in a fantasy life and has a growing sexual addiction in 2011’s Shame. In 12 Years a Slave, Fassbender plays Edwin Epps, an abusive, aggressive and racist planter.

While McQueen has given Michael a lot of presence in his films, in 12 Years A Slave, Chiwetel Ejiofor is the one who steals the show. The story couldn’t fit him any better. A free Black man lives a decent life with his family, then he is persuaded by a business opportunity and forced into slavery for over a decade. The photography in the film is exceptional, showing a realistic depiction of what America was at that time and how life was in the Southern states. With small, but interesting roles from Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt, the film manages to have a solid cast, but the true winners being Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Patsey, a hard-working slave who is adored and abused by his owner and hated by the owner’s wife.2

While our immediate family or even our grandparents can’t tell us much about slavery, it’s a topic that everyone should be aware of. Our family can certainly tell us about racism, which can be considered a consequence of the abolition of slavery. This film uses the N word many times, not to upset the audience, but to show how things were back then. The imagery can be cruel at times, especially when we see the slaves being abused for doing something wrong. However, it works great with the tone of the film. Can you imagine Mel Gibson’s controversial Passion of the Christ being the same without all the cruel graphic images? Certainly not. The director understands this well after never holding back in his previous films. McQueen also understands the importance of giving hope to the viewers. Ejiofor suffers the unthinkable, but not once during this hell does he give up on holding his wife and kids in his arms again.

The film is on the long side, but you couldn’t fit 12 years of suffering in less than 2 hours. With the perfect blend of cast, topic, dialog, photography and shocking images, the film never underperforms. It should become an essential flick on this year’s lists, not only because of how well done it is, but because it’s good for Americans to embrace their past. The world likes to constantly remind the Germans because of the Holocaust, but nobody focuses on the horrors of slavery. After watching this film, you will sure enter into an introspective state, and that’s what good movies are all about. Get to a theater while you can and watch the movie now, but if you can’t, you will get a chance next year, as this movie will certainly be a regular fixture during awards season.

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