Following a recent trajectory in what seems like an emerging trend in movies documenting pre-civil war slavery, it’s hard not to feel suspicious about the prospect of an ulterior cash cow motive in what could have arguably been viewed here as shallow exploitation.
Steven Spielberg however was the first to counter any underlying cynicism following the release of biopic Lincoln, when he insisted that Hollywood was instead simply ready to finally tackle what had previously been deemed a sensitive taboo subject that could have otherwise alienated a wider audience.
First to confront the elephant in the room was Quentin Tarantino on his gung-ho spaghetti western geekathon Django Unchained. With a level of theatrical flamboyance and colourful dialogue more akin to that of a Frank Miller graphic novel, Django also had servings of gratuitous gore in spades, which under normal circumstances would have trivialised such a delicate subject had it not been able to highlight the struggle between the main protagonists.
With the torch now passed to acclaimed director Steve McQueen, we are introduced to the not so familiar true story of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, based on his 1853 memoirs of the same name. An established musician and family man from New York, Solomon is kidnapped by clandestine slave traffickers, masquerading as potential employers after falsely being given the promise of work as a concert violinist. What then ensues is a barrage of physical torture and abject misery as Solomon, born a freeman, is unjustly estranged from his family and forced to work tirelessly in the southern heat within the confines of the desolate cotton plantations.
Michael Fassbender is terrifyingly unnerving as a wild eyed slave master in a role that encompasses a new level of sadistic depravity, in which his character derives the utmost pleasure from the cruel deeds he inflicts upon those at his mercy. As Solomon resigns himself to a life of attempted lynching and forced servitude, he seeks solace in the compassionate nature of a humble carpenter, played by Brad Pitt, who agrees to help Solomon find a way out of his hopeless predicament.
With an outstanding central performance from British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing portrayal of the devastation surrounding the slave trade, derived from an amazing first-hand account of injustice that will hopefully serve as a stark reminder of the harsh reality in one of the darkest periods of American history.
IMDb: 12 Years a Slave (2013)
In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.