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12 Years A Slave

by Louise Adams
Saturday Mar 15, 2014
12 Years A Slave

Director Steve McQueen, whose ancestors were Caribbean slaves, interprets Solomon Northup's 1853 captivity narrative, which recounts "more cruel wrong and severe bondage" and is titled "12 Years A Slave." The film won this year's Best Picture Oscar, plus Best Adapted Screenplay by John Ridley and Best Supporting Actress Award for Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey, who picked cotton when she wasn't being repeatedly raped and brutally beaten.

In the most substantial Blu-ray extra, the two-part "A Historical Portrait," Henry Louis Gates, Jr., head of Harvard's African-American Studies department, calls the book and film "the greatest and most realistic depiction of slavery." Unwaveringly embodied by the brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor, freeman violinist Northup is lured from his home in Saratoga, New York, in 1841 to a promised gig in the Nation's Capital. His is then drugged, kidnapped (because the import of slaves had been banned in 1808) and renamed Platt, first sold to the relatively charitable master Ford (ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch), then ending up with sadistic slaver (is there any other kind?) Epps (Michael Fassbender). The barbarism of his bondage consumes his life much like the omnipresent Spanish moss obfuscates the white columns of the enslaver's plantations.

Northup spends over a decade toiling around steamy Red River, Louisiana, until a white contractor agrees to send a risky message to Northup's northern friends. Bass saves Solomon in the story as actor/producer Brad Pitt apparently saved the production by shepherding it through a reluctant studio system.

This Best Picture Oscar-winner should be shown in every history class for the harrowing memoir is "the Anne Frank book for America."

One of the mini-documentaries, "The Team," shows the makeup techniques used to create lash scars upon whip scars on the actor's backs, and Ejiofor also reads from the source material, an American "Odyssey," one of the 101 books written by slaves from 1760 to the end of the Civil War. Northup said, "This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have failed in anything, it has been in presenting to the reader too prominently the bright side of the picture."

"12 Years A Slave" should be shown in every history class for the harrowing memoir is "the Anne Frank book for America."

"12 Years A Slave"

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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