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’12 Years a Slave’ avoids genre clichés, boasts powerful acting performances

By Charles Louis Dominguez ’14

Photo from MCT Campus -- Michael Fassbender as "Edwin Epps," from left, Lupita Nyong'o as "Patsey" and Chiwetel Ejiofor as "Solomon Northup" in Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave."

In a very important way, Steve McQueen’s new film “12 Years a Slave” doesn’t feel at all like a movie.

Its depiction of the tale of Solomon Northup, a born-free black man who is kidnapped and sold in to slavery, is anything but triumphant.

For the most part, “12 Years a Slave” is all thorns, sparing the viewers the superficiality that can come along with a film that puts a sugar coating over slavery.

We first meet Solomon Northup as a freeman living in Saratoga Springs, New York with his family. He is a respected violin player within his community and his life appears to be one of good comfort.

Early on, Solomon’s wife Anne takes a trip out of the city with their two children.

She expects to only be gone for a period of two weeks.

During this time, Solomon runs in to two white men who claim to be the owners of a traveling circus and are looking for talented musicians to accompany their troupe.

They explain to him that he will be paid kindly and will be returned to Saratoga Springs in two weeks’ time.

With nothing to do in the absence of his wife and children, Solomon accepts their offer, in hopes of making some extra money for his family, and accompanies the two men to Washington, D.C.

In the next scene, the three men are shown eating a fancy dinner together.

The two white men egg Solomon on to drink until he is vomiting and can hardly walk. They both help put him to sleep and, when he wakes up, he’s in a cell and bound by shackles.

His identity and free-status is overlooked and he is beaten in to assuming a new identity. He is then shipped South and put on the auction block.

The remainder of the film is as difficult to watch as anything I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. You watch a human being lose all of his dignity.

Over the course of the narrative, Solomon is owned by two different slave owners. The treatment he endures is graphic and powerful.

As a whole, the movie offers a gripping tale along with stellar acting performances all-around.

“12 Years a Slave” could very easily be a corny film. It could simply be a movie about how the human spirit is powerful enough to triumph over even slavery.

But it isn’t.

“12 Years a Slave” is a graphic chronicle of something horrible that happened.

It’s a depiction of a reality that tells you that slavery is awful and ends there, and it’s a much better movie for taking the less traveled road.

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