23 Jan 2014

12 Years a Slave – one of the most important films ever made

I am still in recovery – recovery from watching a film in a cinema. But I understate my condition. I have just been through the immense and overwhelming experience of watching 12 Years a Slave. Perhaps you may have seen it, or read a review – seen a clip, or the trailer even.

Nothing can adequately describe what Steve McQueen’s film has achieved. McQueen (pictured) is first and foremost an artist, and every frame of this harrowing but deeply revealing and insightful film is itself a work of art. It is perhaps the artistry that makes the experience of watching it such a vast assault upon all one’s senses.

This is a searing insight into what white people found it within their souls to do to black people in the age of slavery in America’s deep south. It would be easy for us to dismiss the content of 12 Years a Slave as simply “what the emerging United States of America did”.

But it is so much more: it is about what we have done in the centuries and days that have led us to the times in which we live now.

Together, we and others – the Dutch, the French, the Spanish, the Portuguese, and more – captured hundreds of thousands (we know not how very many) of predominantly African people and carted them to a life of white possession, subjugation, and deprivation. The inheritance resides with us to this day. It has profoundly informed all our histories. Travel to Isle de Goree off the coast of Senegal – the marshalling yards for so many slaves bound for the Americas – and you can smell, sense in so many ways, what happened.

But this film takes our souls to the very fibre and heartbeat of what slavery meant. Somehow one emerges feeling deeply culpable for what happened and for our racial failures even in this supposedly developed day.

In the cold light of day, I wonder whether the Oscar system will dare award it, what it most determinedly is: not only the film of the year, but one of the most important films ever made.

See it! Let us allow it to change and deepen our lives.

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