Released 2014. Directed by Steve McQueen. Screenplay by John Ridley, based on “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch.
I’ve been trying to write about 12 Years a Slave in an impersonal, methodical way, but I can’t. So strong was my response to this film that I need to bring my background and experience to the surface of my review, so here it is: as a 25-year-old white male who’s never had much to be bullied about, let alone abused, as much as I try to empathise with slaves depicted in media, it’s not a life I know anything about, even tangentially. It’s all too easy for me to observe portrayals of slavery and nod along, intellectually appreciating the cruelty and brutality shown without getting anywhere near an understanding of the hopelessness, the suffering, the human cost. Whenever I see slavery in media, I know what the appropriate response is, and I don’t have any trouble understanding what I’m being told, and it’s not as though I disagree that slavery is evil, but I’ve never truly felt it. The slaves I see live in another world, and are born into their situations. I don’t have any trouble sympathising, but I do have trouble empathising. The slaves I see are not like me.