Deborah Ross: 12 Years a Slave harrowed me to within an inch of my life

Steve McQueen's third and best film spills with great performances - but it belongs to Chiwetel Ejiofor

11 January 2014

9:00 AM

11 January 2014

9:00 AM

12 Years a Slave

15, Nationwide

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave goes directly to the heart of American slavery without any shilly-shallying — unlike The Butler, say, or even Django Unchained — and is what I call a ‘Brace Yourself’ film, as you must brace yourself for horror after horror, injustice after injustice, shackles, muzzles, whippings, rapes, hangings. You will be harrowed to within an inch of your life, as perhaps is only right, given the subject matter, but you will not wish to flee your seat. You will recoil. You will flinch. You will say to yourself, ‘Oh no, not again.’ But the story will seize you with such a visceral power you will be rooted to the spot. I know I was and I’m not easy to root. Mind everywhere, usually.

This is not like McQueen’s previous two features — Hunger, about Bobby Sands’s hunger strike in prison, and Shame, about one man’s crippling sex addiction — which came entirely from the left field. This is far more conventional, and conventionally told, with a beginning, a middle, and the end, which you will long for, not because you are bored (I wasn’t) but because you so want it to turn out OK, and for Solomon Northup to come out into the light.

It is based on Solomon’s astonishing true story, written as a memoir in 1853, and opens with him living as a free man in Saratoga Springs, New York. Played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, he is a fiddle player and appears prosperous. He has a wife he loves, two children he loves. They all live in a nice house, and the family are treated with respect and affection by the local white community. It is such a happy, elegant life you just know something is going to come along and ruin it — brace position, now! — and it does when two men lure Solomon to Washington, for what he thinks will be a lucrative short stint playing fiddle for the circus, but where he is plied with drink, and drugged, and next wakes up stripped, imprisoned, shackled, Django Re-Chained. He protests he is a free man, but there is no Life of Brian-style reprieve: ‘Oh, sorry. No servitude for you. Off you go then.’ Instead, he is beaten brutally, and then shipped south, to the plantations.

He is passed from master to master, from Benedict Cumberbatch, who is kind-ish but weak, so sticks with the prevailing order, to Mr Epps, as played by Michael Fassbender. Epps is vicious to his boots but not just vicious to his boots. He upholds the system with an iron fist but is in love with one of his slaves, Patsey (oh God, poor Patsey), can’t tolerate being in love with one of his slaves, so must destroy her physically. At some level we recognise him as a human being who is also paying a terrible price, rather than simply a monster. Slavery was a dehumanising obscenity all round. Slavery has made Mrs Epps (Sarah Paulson) vicious to her boots. We understand this, even though it is never spelled out.

Solomon has a unique perspective, being a slave who does not consider himself a slave, and the tone is coolly observational, rather than sentimental. McQueen, a British director of Nigerian descent, was a visual artist before turning to film, and carefully assembles scenes that are not just strikingly juxtaposed (the brutal against lush pastoral, for example) but also tell us more than any dialogue would: the humiliation of slaves having to gather and strip naked to wash themselves before being shipped; the pain of a mother separated from her children weeping on a stoop; Solomon near-hanging for several hours in the hot sun, just able to reach the ground with his toes, which he must keep moving like a ballerina on points, or his neck will break, as slaves go about their business around him, because death and torture are so the norm. We are shown the banality of evil close-up, and the brutality close-up — the whippings; the wounds — but the question isn’t so much: ‘do I have the stomach to look?’ More: ‘do I have the right to turn away?’

Plus, we care about Solomon, and we care what happens to him, and whether he will ever see his wife and children again. Every episode in his life is narratively tense, sometimes suffocatingly so. Will he be able to protect Patsey? Will his letter be delivered? Will the overseer kill him? The film spills with great performances — we’ll take Fassbender as read, but Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey also gets you right in the gut — but it is Ejiofor’s film. His performance is restrained, covering all the emotions — stunned bewilderment; pain; hope; but never acceptance — without ever showboating. He plays Solomon as a man fighting as much for his sanity as for his freedom, and you can’t, won’t, shouldn’t look away. So, a ‘brace yourself’ film but one that keeps you rooted to the spot. I’d buy a ticket to that.

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  • Nick


  • Nick

    Can someone please tell me why it is that I can post on some topics and not others?

    • No idea Nick…did you get the sofa in the end? 😉

      • Nick


  • Well, back in the autumn A.White (no, really!) the critic said “[it] belongs to the torture porn genre”, “12 Years a Slave uses sadistic art to patronize history”.

    But it is not a black and white issue…(ho ho) not literally or figuratively: in no way playing down the clear wrongs that went on, we must try to avoid thinking ‘slavery’ was just slavery in the USA or just the Atlantic slave trade; it has involved all colours and creeds, has existed since humans walked the Earth and certainly hasn’t gone away.

    And by the way, as matters of interest: 50% or more of the white immigrants to the American colonies in the century and a half before the American Revolution had gone under debt-bondage (indentured servitude) and although there were both black and white indentured servants sentenced to lifetime servitude the first person of African descent to be classed as a slave in what became the USA was owned by…a black man.

    • Daniel Maris

      It’s true that, to begin with, there wasn’t much differentation between indentured servitude and slavery but it didn’t take long to begin to separate out under various influences not least economic (black slaves were much more likely to survive well in the sub-tropical environment than Europeans).

      It’s true slavery has a much wider history than that described in 12 Years a Slave but equally you cannot get away from the ultimate irony (or hypocrisy) of a state founded on the principle of liberty also being sustained by the most brutal, pitiless slavery. The contradiction could not endure forever – it is only amazing really that it took the Americans four score years and ten to resolve it.

      • At great cost of more lives, in the current scholarly accounting, than was previously thought. America paid in blood for its sins. And it redressed them and then some. Which is more than can be said for most nations, ever. Slavery was an aberration at the revolution and the founding. The Founding — a radical experiment in self-government — did not want slavery but was shackled with it. Yes, I meant those words.

      • Eddie

        Yep, but back in the early 19th century, I can assure you that most ordinary people in Britain were really nothing more than slaves. OK, they were in theory free – but they weren’t really.
        And it was even worse in Europe and the USA. At least there were parishes here providing welfare and protection in law.
        What annoys me is when people assume (as ignorant persons do) that white people have always been privileged and rich (note how films always show landowning posh white people to compare to the oppressed and poor blacks), and not the true picture, which is that those whites were the top 5% of the population. Most whites were just as oppressed as slaves in reality, and were exploited too.

    • richbloke

      If you actually think about that last point you made. if you stop to entertain just how trivial and irrelevant it is to all but the most petty minded. If you pause to dwell on the numerous “likes” it supports, you gain a fuller understanding of the fundamental problem that exists in Western society, and that is, when you get down to it it’s always “them” and “us”.

      • Trivial and petty, ah there speaks the unenlightened, spouting barely disguised insults. Of course it must eventually boil down to some sort of them and us because it involves humans. I presume you mean black and white but it applies equally to rich and poor.

        Indentured servants were often treated more harshly and pushed more excessively because they were not permanent property; the slaves, being paid-for possessions were treated in a way that protected the investment!

        • richbloke

          I used “them and us” because it encompasses everything from race to gender to sexuality to economic status and of course religion. I believe that humanity has an obligation to evolve beyond petty and ultimately irrelevant divisions, in my opinion you’re false assumptions and trivia serve only to perpetuate them. You seem to be under the impression that nobody knows about white hardship when aside from the fact most people are not idiots the subject has been well covered in popular television and film.

          • Eddie

            I think you’ll find that the claim that ‘women/blacks have to work harder than men/whites to get to the same level’ is an utter lies backed up with no evidence; indeed, these days, there is blatant discrimination against white males, which badly affects the white working class boys, racism and sexism, against whom is called ‘positive action’ and ‘promoting diversity’. No wonder they have no faith in anything any more.

          • richbloke, which assumptions are ‘false’? It seems I made only one which turned out to be correct but not the whole range of your (note spelling) previously unwritten ‘them and us’ possibilities.

            “Obligation to evolve”? Wondrous pap. Why do you believe human divisions are petty and irrelevant? Your last sentence is interesting: why do you think I “seem to be under the impression that nobody knows about white hardship…”etc?

        • Eddie

          Yes, and it’s still all about rich and well-connected VERSUS those who are not. The former can be black, Asian, female; many of the latter are white men who face blatant racism and sexism in the name of equality from the usual diversity despots.

    • Eddie

      Indeed. There is a fascinating untold story of the rich black families of the South who owned slaves and had real power – far more than most whites – in the 18th and 19th centuries.
      That story won’t be told of course, because it does not fit snugly into the usual ‘black=good victim;white=bad perpertrator slave-owner’ template.

  • Lilibulero

    Robert Fogel, the Nobel Prize winning economist who died in June , 2013, rather undermined all that abolitionist frenzy when he demonstrated in his ‘Time on the Cross’ how American Southern plantation slaves were better fed, and had better health than Northern Industrial workers of the same era.
    Slavery was an immoral, but profitable enterprise, and the physical abuse of slaves was regarded in the same way as the physical abuse of livestock. It happened, but was considered as unprofitable. Slaves were regarded as valuable property and were not risked in dangerous occupations, such as swamp clearing, or levee construction.
    Easily replaceable, expendable immigrants, such as the Irish ( and later the Chinese), could be cheaply hired as they stepped off the coffin ships fleeing the Great Famine of the 1840’s which depopulated by four million people the second largest island of the then richest state on earth, The Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
    Fogel’s revelations did not fit the myth of millions of black slaves being worked to death, so not many in the media wanted to highlight it. When the facts don’t fit the narrative, just forget about the facts! It’s the Hollywood way!

    • Daniel Maris

      So why did all the slaves decamp from the plantations? The humiliation of slavery was more painful a punishment than any whip or stick could impose.

      Anyway,. you are talking about the later slavery. The earlier slavery was more like the Nazi death camps where people were deliberately worked to death on low rations, because that was profitable (rather than maintaining them into old age) and where white overseers were paid to rape slaves and so breed a plentiful supply. Punishments such as castration, skinning alive, boiling alive and so on were all in use then.

      Why are you so eager to airbrush the horrors of slavery? Only you can answer that.

      • Fergus Pickering

        In Britain the peasants decamped from the land. It didn’t work out ver well for them. The same with the ex-slaves. The grass is greener, don’t you know?

      • Lilibulero

        After the Civil War, most slaves, far from ‘decamping from the plantations’ became share croppers. Many of their New Masters were Northern Unionist ‘carpetbaggers’ who bought the plantations at auction by paying the land taxes accumulated during the war.
        Slavery is as old as mankind and has always been a fundamentally economic relationship. All of the so called ‘great civilisations’ were built upon the backs of slaves, with docile house slaves at the top of the slave hierarchy and people reduced to ‘beast status’ at the bottom. Rather than waxing lyrical about the glories of Egypt, Greece, and Rome educators would do well to concentrate on the vast majority of people who lived in constant terror. The Nazi slave worker concentration camps and the Communist slave worker gulags were just more recent manifestations of the objectificaton of human beings, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, North Korea, and modern China are even more recent examples.
        On the issue of the early days of slavery, where do we start? If we were to concentrate on the British involvement, Sir John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Queen Elizabeth I would be found to have all profited handsomely. Most of the mercantile banks and aristocratic families profited also, and the wealth funded Britain’s industrial revolution. There are not too many film makers lining up for such an expose of the wealth origins of the British Establishment. Much safer to blame the nasty Yanks and pat ourselves on the back about how we British ended the slave trade (once sugar beet could be profitably grown at home) and, of course we did amply compensate the slave owners too! How the British love to get vexed about a ‘foreign wrong’, whilst ignoring their own dubious deeds at home in Britain and Ireland!

  • Fergus Pickering

    I see htis as one of those worthy films I wouldn’t dream of seeing.

    • I doubt it’s as worthy as all that, FP. Sounds like ‘torture porn’.

      • Eddie

        It does. We should also remember that if Britain had still ruled north America in the 19th century, there would be no story because there would be no slavery. We banned it, y’see, in 1807, and 1833 in the colonies. America waited until the 1860s, and the 1960s/70s to enact values of equality that were assumed in the UK for centuries.

      • Fergus Pickering

        You mean like ‘Boxing Helena’. No, I haven’t seen it either.

      • richbloke

        Dear Swanky, Every movie is not for everybody…. “Move along, nothing to see here”

        • I never said it was. The point is that there is enough suffering in life without putting yourself through it, needlessly. I don’t need a pantomime of pain to tell me I’m alive: I’ve got enough genuine pain to do the job, thanks.

  • It seems to me, especially reading Deborah and also the erudite James Bowman (who writes about the media for the New Criterion and reviews movies on his website) that films these days are for two sorts of people: those that are willing to be put through anything — manipulated, messed about, ‘harrowed’ — and those that want sex in one form or another, e.g. Blue Is The Warmest Color. I get the feeling that J. Bowman rather enjoyed the latter, but I would have hated it: the insistence on getting you up close & personal with their every breath, sweat, fart would drive me bonkers. (Look at Tom Cruise in Legend and it will put you off the supposedly expressive open mouth for all time.)

    I stopped watching movies in the theater in my early 20s, after hours and hours (not to mention the money) of sitting in the dark and thinking “I hate this. Why am I here?’ One of the last times, I walked out before the end in acute discomfort (the film was Raising Arizona), my boyfriend following indignantly and demanding to know why. No wonder I left him.

    • Eddie

      Yep, and who trapped the slaves and brutalised them before selling them to traders? Black Africans whose descendents – corrupt despots – rule that sad continent today, enslaving its people with oppression and poverty.

      No white guilt in me. I enslaved no-one. And in the UK (which has far fewer blacks than the USA – around 4%, or a quarter of our ethnic minorities – the USA has 13% who were once slaves where they live) – a majority of blacks are direct from Africa now, and probably their ancestors were slave traders who grew rich and fat from their tribal enslavement brutality. Maybe they should feel guilty eh? And the Arabs.

      • richbloke

        Oh Eddie, Why must you be this way? corrupt despots? So nothing like the various Historical/present leaders of Europe and Russia then? Also Eddie ask yourself who exactly is doing the corrupting? Ask yourself that next time you’re using your mobile phone or Laptop filled with cobalt mined from the Congo.

        • Eddie

          So you are stalking me and posting after every single one of my posts on here.
          We are not talking about the historical leaders of Europe and Russia – a dumb analogy which displays your desperation for all to see.
          Black African countries have their own brutal savage culture to blame for the mess they are in. Britain left those countries in a good state, African despots destroyed them with their sorruption and greed.

          • Bobby

            Eddie – I’ve never been moved to write anything on here but having read what you’ve written I couldn’t stop myself.

            Your opinions are mindless, unfeeling, nasty and bigoted: you call the Chinese Nazis; you say Africans have “no sense of common good”; you say the forefathers of all black Africans were despots and/or slave traders; you say that life in 19th century Britain was, for many, “no different to as life as a slave”; you contend that most whites were “just as oppressed as slaves really”; you say that black criminals always say that slavery made them do it; you call the British Empire “the most benevolent in history”; you know 12 Years a Slave to be “a boring movie” – despite not having seen it … I could go on, and I could spell out why it is that each of your comments is terrible and wrong but I don’t think that’s necessary as what you say is so spell-bindingly stupid that your idiocy is clear for all to see.

            If these are your true opinions (and I sincerely hope they are not) then you have some very serious issues, foremost of which is your all too apparent all-consuming hatred of the Chinese, Arabs and Africans. Perhaps your hatred of these races explains why it is that you have no sense of sympathy for the horror that was slavery and why you are so keen to downplay the wrongs the British Empire inflicted on the African continent.

            I strongly suggest you do some reading to find out what it meant to live as a slave in the southern states of the USA in the 19th century, perhaps you should start with Solomon Northup’s biography.

          • Eddie

            Typical leftie – with a nose stuck up the behinds of the neo-fascist, wildlife-killing, greedy, selfish, Imperialist Chinese.

            ‘you have no sense of sympathy for the horror that was slavery’

            Slavery existed in all cultures in history. The British stopped it and spread the ban around the world in what was a radical move based on the moral foundation of the British Empire, by far the most benevolent in history.

            ‘and why you are so keen to downplay the wrongs the British Empire inflicted on the African continent.’

            The British Empire civilised the world – gave the rule of law, technology, modernity, education, language, culture to the dark and savage corners of the world. The British stopped these savages from doing wrong – cannibalism, human sacrifice, slavery, torture, child murder – and gave them good morals to live by. 95% of what the British Empire was good – it was a force for good, as is evidenced by the banning of slavery (which the black Africans, the Chinese, the Russians, The Americans did not want!).

            Your white guilt agenda is pathetic – you do not occupy the moral high ground just because you have group hugs over oppressed black people 200 years ago. In fact, you are a proven racist if you don’t also have a group hug over oppressed white people from the same time. Slavery was not banned in Russia until 1865 y’know.

            You are judging people who lived centuries ago by our own standards – which is always the true sign of an idiot, and a pompous twerp too. I bet you’re a sad sack academic or teacher, filling the brains of the young will lies and opinions masquerading as fact. No wonder we have riots!

          • Bobby

            I’ve just clicked on your name and read some of the other stuff you’ve written on this website; much of it is vile, really very horrible. Clearly you are a sad and unhappy man – truly I pity you.

          • Eddie

            I think you’ll find that the vibrant and diverse descendants of slaves who will try and mug you whitie if you ever set foot in certain areas of London are far more vile and horrible than me.
            I just express an opinion.
            I may be cynical, yes, but apparently that’s not illegal just yet (unless one dares ever criticise Muslims of course).

          • richbloke

            Eddie, I think Bobby meant “Sad” as in your overall existence and “Unhappy” as in your perpetual emotional state…. You’re welcome.

          • richbloke

            Eddie, Don’t flatter yourself! Our interactions will extend no further than these pages.

            I’ve posted after most of your comments ( I actually liked one) because quite frankly they contain some of the most ignorant nonsense I’ve come across and I feel compelled to free you of your extreme bitterness as a matter of principle.

            This most recent post exposes the depth of your ignorance regarding Africa. “Britain left those countries in a good state” I did not single out Britain at any point, I said EUROPE! but If you knew absolutely anything about Europe’s scramble for African land and resource you would understand precisely how foolish a statement it is to suggest any of the European powers left countries in a good state. Aside from creating new countries which completely ignored existing tribal borders European countries deliberately fostered feelings of resentment and hatred between native tribes to suit there own needs. Actions which were directly responsible for the Rwandan genocide.

            “Africans have NO sense of the common good” Just so I’m clear on the extent of ignorance present in this statement are you referring to all 55 countries in Africa? You are correct on one point, the naivety of Western Aid groups meant they often ended up feeding soldiers instead of innocent civilians and in one instance helped a war last a full two years longer than it would have without their assistance. Ignorance even with good intentions is still ignorance. Western interference often creates more problems than it solves, Palestine being a good example.

            Referring to the Chinese as Nazis further erodes your credibility as a decent human being. While I remain cautiously sceptical about the Chinese involvement in Africa the fact is the Chinese are bringing to Africa the infrastructure it needs to progress NOW and that’s good roads, telecommunication, ports and airports. This is something the West has never been able to do when obtaining resource.

            Please don’t try to bait me into some kind of race argument, unlike yourself I have no problem with colour, simply governments, policy and people who try to steer every conversation they have toward racial hatred.

  • Eddie

    I’d love to watch a movie exposing the horrific African slave trade run by black Africans; or the Arab slave trade that went on for a thousand years and especially focused on supplying children and women; or the blacks in the USA who were free and rich landowners under slavery; or a film that shows how the British Empire stopped slavery around the world, and how it was the Spanish who were slaving 200 years before the Brits joined in for a short time (this is why most racial terms of abuse are from the Spanish).

    I doubt the African-American pity party industry would award any such film an award though. It seems a film made deliberately to bag a few Oscars to me, and I expect to find it a disappointment, like most such movies.

    I hated this director’s first two movies; this one is based on a book, and it is the writer of that book we should admire for the story, not the director.

    ‘McQueen, a British director of Nigerian descent’
    WRONG! He parents were from Grenada and Trinidad; he was born and brought up in West London.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Oh. I hadn’t realised he was black. One for the chaps, then. Not white man’s business.

    • steakfrites

      Try Amistad, then. Surprisingly Spielberg put a fair bit of emphasis on the Royal Navy’s role in ending the slave trade. I really don’t see the point in acting as if there’s such an anti-white conspiracy out there regarding slavery; yes, the picture could be more balanced but we’re hardly suffering from it.

      • Eddie

        A boring movie.
        The facts I state are correct. Britain was involved in the slave trade for a VERY short time – Spain was the main slaver. And the Arabs for 1000 years. And black Africans for longer.
        I am sick and tired of blacks claiming that because their ancestors were supposedly slaves (though more likely slave traders…), that is why they have just gone out and mugged an old lady. It’s a pose – a pity party of enormous proportions – and is shameless used now by a race industry to demand special treatment and more funding.
        The UK banned slavery in 1807 – in a move that was akin to banning the arms trade today. Britain lost vast wealth because of it. The British Empire – the most benevolent in history – spread that ban around the world. That is never mentioned – as the race industry tried to portray all blacks as angels and all whites as devils.
        The USA is different – a much larger black population, that has suffered terrible abuse and discrimination over the centuries right up until the 1970s. They live where their slave ancestors live.
        Remember, the UK has never had any race laws against blacks, and hardly any slaves living in the UK too (Britain was a place a black man could be free 200, 300, 400 years ago). One very bad development of recent years, is the way British blacks ape their US counterparts – quite absurdly, and causing great bitterness and damage. The UK is not the US.

        • richbloke

          Eddie, Who exactly are these black muggers that claim “slavery made me do it”? I’ve yet to come across one in my various readings of the DailyMail.

          Considering that half of the UK’s Black population are of Caribbean decent How likely is it that they traded slaves? Really?

          Also what exactly are you annoyed about? The UK has absolutely no part to play in this movie so the fact that the British banned slavery in 1807 and pretty much everything you write after that point is completely irrelevant.

          There are many untold stories that need to be brought to our attention. In the meantime we get to experience the ones that have. Embrace it.

          • Eddie

            Oh dear – you are clearly one of these fantasists who believes, despite the massive evidence, that black people are no more likely to be muggers than white people.
            You are also one of those twerps you thinks that comparing anyone else’s views to The Daily Mail somehow wins you the argument.
            The fact that Britian banned slavery in 1807 against the wishes of the USA, Spain, Arabs and black Africans is mighty relevant, matey! I get sick and tired of the propaganda that tried to blame the UK for slavery and the slave trade. All cultures in human history have had slavery. The West – especially white Europeans, and especially Britain – led the way in taking the radical step to ban it. No black Africans who got rich off the slave trade wanted that!
            You are so ignorant. Half of blacks in the UK (who are massively over-represented on our TVs anyway, as three quarters of our 16% ethnic minorities are NOT black anyway)

          • richbloke

            They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, if that’s true you my friend are a walking WMD.

            Firstly my point about muggers had precisely nothing to do with numbers or how likely one particular race is to mug than another. It was about the “motivation” to mug, which you claim with a straight face is the result of blacks feeling bad about slavery. I ask again, where exactly are you getting this information? I think you’ll find most muggers mug for financial gain not political ideology but none of that has anything to do with this movie.

            I doubt there would be any prize given for defeating you in an argument but I agree my DM reference was a cheap shot and I apologise for assuming you a DM reader (although you would make an excellent journalist).

            What exactly do you mean by “black politics”? And as you are so well studied in them can you please give me a single example of a politician outside of America that has mentioned slavery as a possible cause of social deviance in the Western world? I was under the impression that the central argument was racial discrimination leading to social and economic problems? You know plain old racial ignorance but I look forward to reading your source material.

            “I get sick and tired of the propaganda that tried to blame the UK for slavery and the slave trade.” And rightly so but again I ask you, considering 12 Years a Slave takes place exclusively within the United States and makes no reference to the UK or its involvement in the slave trade, why would you think this was a suitable forum to vent your frustrations?

            Your last paragraph which accuses me of ignorance is filled with so much spurious drivel I hardly know where to begin. “Black Africans who enslaved their own excess people” Are you referring to the African chiefs who enslaved their enemies for guns after being told by traders that these same enemies were attempting to buy guns and enslave them? Firstly despite what you may have been told the majority of Africans from the West Coast of Africa (that’s the portion of Africa you’re referring to by the way) are not descended from kings. More importantly these individuals sold Africans into slavery based on tribal affiliation not skin colour. To say it was simply Africans selling Africans would be a gross simplification, like saying WW2 was simply Europeans killing Europeans. The majority of slave trading in Africa was conducted by Arabs who certainly do not consider themselves black.

            You claim to take offence that white people are being blamed for slavery yet have no issue in blaming black people for it. At some point you need to be honest with yourself and ask if the answers you create are not simply a manifestation of your own bigotry.

          • Eddie

            Can’t be bothered to read your tedious rant.
            I hope you get mugged, so you can live the dream…

            My claim is correct: many blacks – part of the US African-American race industry that has filtered over here – blame their failure at school and their criminality on the oppression of their ancestors. The fact you don’t even know that shows you really are at a retarded kindergarten level of thinking on this subject.

          • richbloke

            So you didn’t read it but still chose to answer it? Not the brightest tool are you Eddie?

            If you had bothered to read it you would have noted that it purposely referred to events OUTSIDE of the United States. You see much like yourself I don’t possess sufficient knowledge of African American History to make a well formed argument about the effects of slavery.
            I will say that I’ve heard more African Americans bemoan the effects of Jim Crow laws than the passage from Africa. In fact a large number of Black American’s don’t identify with Africa in the slightest, much like an Australian does not consider himself British. No I think you’ll find most African Americans complain about institutional racism more than the immediate effects of slavery… Also I don’t think you know what “honkytonk” means.

            The only thing you have said this whole time that I can agree on is “It all comes down to money in the end”

            Yes! …If only you had made that single statement the entirety of your contribution.

            The future is happening Eddie, for better or for worse and your opinion of Black or Chinese people changes nothing. Take solace in the fact that your time among humanity will soon be over.

          • Eddie

            If the Chinese were white you’d call them fascists. Ergo, you are a racist.
            Your opinions change nothing at all. You swallow the lies of the race industry if you want; some of us know historical facts trump your fantasies and permanent pity parties. The UK is aping the USA in terms of race relations, which is absurd – there were never plantations here and we never ever had race laws (against Jews and Catholics, yes, but against no-one else).
            You need to learn the truth about how the British Empire civilised and ,liberated the world. It got rid of despots on Africa and Asia, and was 95% good.

          • richbloke

            Hello Eddie, time to bring our exchanges to a close. communicating with you was mildly amusing at first but now the novelty has truly worn off. You seem utterly determined to argue with a phantom born of your own mind and your latest accusation of racism on my part puts you beneath the level of men I choose to converse with. Cheers.

          • Eddie


        • Eddie, also, in reference to the transatlantic trade it was the Portuguese who were the worst accounting for nearly 40% of the total, it’s just that because a lot of the trade went further southwards to what is now Brazil nobody seems to care nor even mention it.

          • Eddie

            Yes indeed, I meant Spain and Portugal.
            You are right – Brazil and its slavery which led to a 40% black population never gets mentioned. Only the USA, because it’s a superpower, gets the slavery treatment – and Britain is always wrongly portrayed as a villain of the piece rather than the hero it surely is. Britain banned slavery and sent that ban around the Empire – against the wishes of the USA, Africa, Asia, Arabs etc.

    • richbloke

      “I’d love to watch a movie exposing the horrific African slave trade run by black Africans” Really? What would the plot be? “Absolute African Monarch trades firearms for enemies after tip-off from European traders” Got to be honest with you Eddie, I don’t see it making it’s money back at the box office.

      What saddens me is that underneath every review of this film is some rant from a person who has obviously neither read the book or watched the movie. 12 Years has nothing to do with pity or personal guilt and it certainly does not aim to lay blame. It’s simply an amazing story about a free man who was taken from his loving family. The fact that the mere thought of a movie involving African slaves causes you so much displeasure speaks more about your own personal demons.

      • Eddie

        Not at all. Your review, rather, exposes your massive self-righteousness and pomposity.
        I have not reviewed the film itself; I have, rather, reacted to the gushing reviews and based my opinion on the usual sort of movies made to appeal to the Hollywood Oscar voters and the African-American audience. I have seen this director’s other 2 films and hated them too. I don’t have to watch the movie and read the book to have an opinion, you twerp!
        Are you an academic? You seem up yourself in pomposity enough to be one.
        Why should I pay £10 to go and watch this emo-pawn? For that is what it is (spelling like that to get past the mods who won’t allow the proper spelling). It’s really just a gushing soap opera – an enormous pity party which no doubt at the end will validate the wonderfulness of the USA and the American dream (as all Oscar winners must).
        I shall wait and get it posted to me via my DVD club for £1.

        I would love to watch a movie about black Africans back in the day which showed them slaving, torturing and brutalising other black Africans. Not to be, because it does not conform to the ‘black as victim good guy; white as perpetrator bad guy’ template. There was a TV mini-series about Shaka the Zulu king – however, it did not show him killing 1.5 million people (the fact) but instead showed him as a all-African-American hero… Hmmm…..

        • richbloke

          “Your review, rather, exposes your massive self-righteousness and pomposity.”

          How exactly?

          I’ll agree that Hollywood has a very narrow view when it comes to African films. But Hollywood is about entertainment as well as education, if you wish to explore the full history of Africa there are several interesting books and a few documentaries you can explore. This should not detract from your ability to remain rational and is no excuse for ignorance.

          You probably wont see an Oscar nominated movie about African tribes slaving each other but you are more likely to see that before say a World War 2 movie about Russian troops routinely raping and murdering German women or a movie about Britain’s cowardice when handling the Israeli Palestine conflict it helped create.

          I know nothing of your background Eddie, but you sound like a victim, and a victim is seldom the winner.

          • Eddie

            Oh no, a leftie Jew-hater! I mean, an Israel hater. Care to compare the Palestinians and the Hamas manifesto with the Nazi’s? Not much different really, Mr Islamophiliac.

            Of course, Jews and Christians used to live all over the middle east until your friends the Muslims massacred them and forced them out – hence the need for a state called Israel which Britain rightly and bravely supported.

            I know plenty about the history of Africa and why it is such a basket case. You don’t, and have a very inaccurate view of it if you have learnt your ‘facts’ from left-wing blame game books and TV programmes.

          • Chris Marker

            Come on now, Eddie boy. You too? Yet another victim of the ‘Holocaust industry’. The irony is that you decry the PC brigades love affair with the blacks but overlook, or rather explain away, the horrors of ‘Gods (sic) chosen people’.
            You a mohel? Cut away, cut away ….

          • richbloke

            Eddie, You truly are beginning to sound like an idiot. Jew-Hater? If you had any idea how ridiculous that statement is you would slap your own face. “Mr Islamophiliac”? I have no religious affiliation whatsoever, so again, slap yourself as hard as you can, you might dislodge some of the gibberish floating around inside your head. Partisan politics are a distraction intended to keep shallow minds such as yours occupied, the left and the right are two sides of the same coin dancing through power while things happen exactly the way big business demands. I’m not your friend Eddie but I’m not your enemy either, go with your God, I wish you all the best in life.

    • Chris Marker

      Bravo Edd, I could’nt have said it better. The ‘Slave industry’ reminds me of the trite “Holocaust industry” that exaggerate the hostoricity of particular events by producing propaganda ad infinitum.
      Alas, our supine elites have all but given into such schemes; and the plebs? Well, God save the plebs.

    • BoiledCabbage

      Eddie, see Roots or something neutered and useless.

      • Eddie

        I watched Roots as a kid and a fine serial it was too. Fiction and wishful thinking – but dramatically superb.

  • Donafugata

    An excellent critique, Deborah.

    This is not a normal cinematic experience, don’t go if you expect to be entertained.

    I am hard-boiled and very critical and am surprised that I couldn’t find fault at all.
    If this had been directed by Spielberg, we would be told what to feel and made, eventually, to feel good about ourselves.

    It’s not the guilt trip that it could have been, it is an honest and graphic account of a true story.

    In each of his three features, McQueen’s long takes give the audience time to reflect on what they are seeing. Both Ejiofor in this and Fassbender in Shame, have the power to convey what they are thinking with just a look.

    I found the forced dancing and merriment one of the most grotesque parts of the film. Exhausted from work in the cotton fields, they were dragged from their beds to the master’s house for a jolly evening. This is similar to the perversity of the forced musical recitals in the Nazi death camps where the torture is about the emotional incongruity.
    A powerful and important film but do not expect to be entertained.

    • Eddie

      The thing is, when watching this movie, will it be possible for the more educated in the audience to get out of their heads the fact that the actor playing the lead went to public school (Dulwich College) and was from a very privileged African background?

      • richbloke

        Yes, it’s called acting Eddie. I assure you educated people are aware Chiwetel is not an actual kidnapped American fiddler. Don’t believe me? ask the first educated person you meet.

        Question. If Black Chavs waste their time thinking about Racism what do White Chavs think about… take your time and answer when you feel comfortable.

        • Eddie

          Actually, the assumption always made by pillocks like you and also our government and institutions (universities and schools, the BBC, councils) is that ALL ethnic minorities are disadvantaged and all whites are privileged. This fantasy (i.e. lie) is the justification for ‘positive action’ (i.e. racism against whites). Just watch the BBC to see it in action.

          Sorry, I don’t answer questions posed by the utterly ignorant; I refer them to the local library (or Islamic Centre, as some are now known) – though many seem only to stock books in Bengali these days…

          • richbloke

            I’m an extremely privileged ethnic minority Eddie, do you see how assumptions can make you sound like an idiot? I also have in my circle dozens of successful individuals from various faiths and ethnic backgrounds including several fine upstanding British gents who currently work for me and happen to be white. I’ve never asked for nor required ‘positive action’ but that doesn’t give me the right to judge the people who might need it, regardless of their colour or religion.

      • Donafugata

        Thanks for the response, Eddie.

        I had been in two minds about seeing this since I read an interview with McQueen where he touched on the very point you make.

        He admits that school was just a laugh for him, he never did any homework and just went to fool around.

        In the next sentence, however, he expresses anger that his teachers down-graded him and seems to have quite a chip on his shoulder about his B status, wtf did he expect?

        Whatever his personal flaws, McQueen has really impressed me in each of his three feature films. To say otherwise is as bad as the militant feminists who condemn the films of Polanski on the grounds that he’s a rapist.

        • Mandii

          Mcqueen admitted in a recent interview that he suffers from dyslexia and had spent most of his life feeling ashamed about it. He has never publicly acknowledge it until now. The administrator from the school he attended acknowledged there was institutional racism during the time McQueen attended. They herded Black students into vocational tracks rather academically rigorous tracks. I am sure those factors impacted his experience there.

          • Donafugata

            Sorry for the delay, Mandii but I have just seen your comment.

            I have seen all three of McQueen’s feature films and, dyslexic or no, the man is a genius, a real artist. With the long takes he gives us beauty and time to think.

            From the flames to the dying embers of the burning letter there is so much to see. The flames and the sparks in the blackness, the dying of hope, there is a reduction to utter despair.

            McQueen may be dyslexic but he is a great communicator of visual images which is why he deserves every accolade as a artist.

  • BoiledCabbage

    Its a very well-made classic Greek tragedy that has a particularly bitter final move. All the classic elements are there, the hubris, the fall, the redemption.

    I hope McQueen will now have the confidence to push mainstream cinema to the limit and re-visit some of his earlier visual methods.

  • An update which I also posted to the next movie review, in response to Ross’s sneer (and I’m sure she’s a very nice person, by the way) to viewers that have no use for this kind of thing:

    Quoting the critic James Bowman —

    ‘I suppose you have to be at least in advanced middle age to feel this obscure sense of shame at violating someone else’s privacy in watching such scenes. As I was coming out of Steve McQueen’s unrelentingly grim movie version of 12 Years a Slave, I overheard an old man say to his wife: “I really wish I hadn’t seen that movie.” When she asked why, he replied: “Too morbid.” It’s not quite the right word to describe what struck me as more like torture-porn, but it may have been a reversion to the original meaning of “morbid” and equivalent to saying that the movie made him feel sick, as it did me. Yet it must be more than most critics’ jobs are worth to wonder if, as the movie seems to suggest, ante-bellum Southern planters really spent their lives alternately praying and figuring out (with Scriptural sanction) new ways to make their slaves’ lives miserable. Any such doubt would automatically count as closing one’s eyes to the truth of slavery.

    At the same time, however, a permanent majority of such eye-closers is necessary to the Lou Reed-Steve McQueen world-view, since the thrill of pop-cultural “reality” is inseparable from the reality-merchant’s assurances to his like-minded audience that together they constitute an elite defined by knowing truths to which their less brave and perspicacious neighbors remain determinedly blind’.

    From the article, ‘Truth Wimps Out’, on

  • rosie1843

    It’s a powerful movie. But it’s also flawed. It’s not as accurate as many people assume it is. Also, I found McQueen’s direction heavy-handed at times and the attempt at 19th century dialogue rather unrealistic.

    I do wonder why McQueen had decided to focus on American slavery and not British slavery.

  • Patricia Taylor

    The way he lives in the North is not how any blacks would have lived then. They would never have been at the same level as whites. The North is a lie. They owned and sold slaves.

    • Terry Field

      They also actively repatriated runaway slaves from the south

  • Terry Field

    Why the author of this article affects horror and psychological collapse at the viewing of a film on a contrived version of slavery amazes me.
    This same person probably thinks that the reality of slavery ended in emancipation; and then goes straightway to a cheap retail outlet and stocks up on clothing made by people whose lives are , here and now, and in almost every particular, more ruthlessly exploited and more miserable than was the case for the vast majority of those who lived as formally indentured slaves.
    I do not seek to sneer at the reality of slavery nor to diminish its horrors, but the infantile conceit that the reality of slavery has been removed from the earth is a massive lie; this article does not help in unveiling reality as it realy is for enormous numbers around the globe – including Britain incidentally.