For all the talk of an abundance of slavery narrative films around, it’s rather surprising just how few there actually are. Some cite the fact a couple of films have arisen in the past years - Django Unchained, Belle, and Lincoln among them – as a thematic trend, but considering so little a lot is a grave misunderstanding. Something so intricately tied to American history cannot be easily shrugged aside and it’s no surprise that modern filmmakers find it a poignant subject to explore in this supposed post-racial day and age; a time where the privileged white man continues his tirade of abuse against all minorities. Additionally, a film that provides a genuinely strong voice for African American’s that isn’t helmed by a white man is hard to come across. Here, in Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s autobiographical work 12 Years A Slave, we find one which could arguably be considered the most unflinching look at America’s dark past yet.
McQueen’s film revolves first and foremost around Solomon Northup’s tale, in which he is stripped of his life as a free man and sold into slavery. The knowledge that any person’s life could disappear in the time it takes to crack a whip is chilling enough, but the events that follow make it all the more tough to watch. The fear of pain, of death, and of losing oneself can all be seen in actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s face and body language, making him the perfect protagonist as he commands the screen even in moments of silence. He is a man trying to survive in a world that leaves so many dead; a world reflected in both his story as well as what is shown of those around him.