Director Steve McQueen delivers a perfect film with 12 Years a Slave. This cinematic masterpiece is everything I hoped it to be and more. Which, as I think about it, is an odd thing to say in regards to a film about one of America’s greatest sins – slavery.
African American Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man living in Saratoga Springs, New York with his wife and children when he is lured away from his home with the promise of work. He is soon drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery. While at first Solomon tries to explain he is a free man, that holding him captive is not right nor legal, he quickly learns that in order to survive, the best he can do is stay silent. The moments in which he does speak out about his true identity, he is immediately told to stay quiet and is ignored.
Going in to the film, one can only imagine the horrific treatment Solomon must endure. Seeing it played out on the big screen hits the audience hard. But then the audience quickly remembers this is not some fictitious Quentin Tarantino film (Django Unchained aside), this is based on real events that happened in history. The beatings Solomon took were real – not just added in to the film out of sensationalism – because Solomon was real.
12 Years a Slave is based upon the slave narrative of the same name, written by Solomon. Now, in order not to spoil the film, you will have to see for yourself when and how Solomon is able to write down his accounts of what happened to him. Solomon’s story is truly magnificent, and definitely one that needed to be told.
The acting is incredible. Ejiofor does a mind-blowing job portraying Solomon – and I mean that in the best way possible. He is deserving of all these award nominations and any other recognitions. Another standout is breakout actress Lupita Nyong’o as the beautiful and strong-willed Patsey. Every emotion she feels, the audience feels, whether they want to or not. Michael Fassbender strikes fear in the viewer’s heart as brutal plantation owner Edwin Epps, and Sarah Paulson stands her ground next to his fantastic acting transformation as Mistress Epps. I could go on and on about the cast, about how amazing they are and how haunting their performances are. Had McQueen not picked the truly perfect cast, I doubt 12 Years a Slave would have succeeded at sharing Solomon’s heartbreaking story.
A must-see, particularly before the Oscars, 12 Years a Slave will remind you how important it is to be kind to each other and to stand up against racism, which yes, is still alive in America.