22 September 2013 | tigerfish50
Abducted to a Southern hell
Considering the social and economic importance of slavery in America's history, the scarcity of serious films depicting the daily life of slaves in the Confederate States is significant - especially since the after-effects from this shameful episode still echo through the culture. '12 Years a Slave' is based upon the memoirs of Solomon Northup, who endured a hellish period of enslavement in Louisiana, which is backed up by legal records.
The story begins with him living with wife and children in upstate New York as a free man and respected member of his community. After being lured to Washington by a couple of con-artists who promised him work, he was subsequently drugged, locked in chains, viciously beaten, stripped of his identity and shipped to New Orleans to be sold into slavery. Over the next twelve years, he was owned by two men who treated him in contrasting ways. The first was a relatively civilized fellow, but the plantation's half-witted manager was threatened by Northup's superior intelligence. Their mutual dislike produced a dangerously volatile situation, and unwilling to lose his investment, Northup's owner re-sold him to a neighbor. This unbalanced individual regarded his slaves as property to be used for pleasure and profit, which caused them to live in perpetual fear that his capricious moods would flare into sadistic lust or rage at any moment.
It's noteworthy that a British director has become one of the few filmmakers to delve deeply into this subject, and the combination of John Ridley's powerful script and McQueen's directorial skills has inspired exceptional performances from the entire cast. Their dramatization of Northup's experiences is both riveting and uncomfortable to watch, as the film depicts the perverse nature of a society that permitted such a barbaric system. Hopefully it will reach a large US audience, who will learn how a privileged Southern elite cruelly exploited their fellow humans in order to acquire greater wealth for themselves.