News / Arts & Entertainment

'12 Years a Slave' Seen as Turning Point in Films on Slavery

'12 Years a Slave' Seen as Turning Point in Films on Slaveryi
X
November 13, 2013 6:52 PM
Director Steve McQueen’s acclaimed new film, 12 Years a Slave, is a Hollywood watershed. The movie offers an unflinching portrayal of slavery in the United States and sets a new standard for narrating such stories on the silver screen. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Penelope Poulou
Director Steve McQueen’s acclaimed new film, 12 Years a Slave, is a Hollywood watershed. The movie offers an unflinching portrayal of slavery in the United States and sets a new standard for narrating such stories on the silver screen.

Like many slavery films before it, 12 Years a Slave unfolds in the sweltering heat of southern plantations. But unlike its predecessors, McQueen’s film focuses on a free man from the north who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.
 
His name was Solomon Northup. And it's a true account.
 
“The reason I took this angle is I wanted that person to be everyone in the audience," McQueen said. "Someone who can take you, the audience, in this unfortunate conveyor belt of slavery.”
 
Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor offers a tour de force performance as Northup. 
 
“This is a story about one of the harshest structures that’s ever been created in the history of the world," he said. "And it is somebody trying to survive that with their mind intact, and they do.”
 
Film historian Dexter Gabriel says the movie breaks new ground.
 
“The movie does a very good job in exposing slavery, almost, in a sense, exposing the old films on slavery, the old plantation epics, exposing them for frauds," he said.
 
Gabriel says movies like Gone with the Wind, in 1939, did a disservice because they painted a portrait of slaves living in harmony with their owners.
 
Nostalgic tributes faded after the U.S. civil rights movement.
 
In 1977, the TV miniseries Roots became the first attempt to reveal the brutality of slavery. But Gabriel says slavery was a small part of the story that looked at the African American experience as a whole.
 
"In its attempt to create slavery as an immigrant story, it attempts to make slavery under this heading in order to make African Americans like everyone else,” he said.
 
Steven Spielberg’s Amistad, in 1997, was about a slave mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad. Gabriel calls it a missed opportunity.
 
“Rather than privilege the slave mutiny, Spielberg makes it about this courtroom drama starring founding fathers and interesting abolitionist lawyers,” he said.
 
Fifteen years later, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained empowered the black slave in a tongue-in-cheek vigilante story. But Gabriel calls it an unrealistic tale of one black man against plantation masters.
 
“It is in the end a wonderful absurdist fairytale of slavery,” he said.

In 12 Years a Slave, the mood darkens. Many say its portrayal of slavery is too harsh. 
 
“Slavery has been a part of this country longer than it hasn’t been," Gabriel said. "I think everyone, in some way, has to come to terms with.”
 
After almost a century of slavery in movies, 12 Years a Slave offers an opportunity for reflection.

You May Like

India PM Modi's party distances itself from religious conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote a Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."