Twelve Years a Slave

I saw this movie last week and wow.

Also, wow wow wow.

If you haven’t, please go see it.  It’s a film version of a memoir by Solomon Northrup, a distinguished and free black gentleman from upstate New York.  In the 1840s, he was deceived and kidnapped, had his identity stripped and was sold on the slave market in Louisiana.  As the title implies, twelve years pass before he is rescued and reunited with his wife and now-grown children.

The story is brutal and shameful, stripping away the lies we’ve told ourselves to mitigate the sheer, institutional evil essential to our nation’s founding. There’s a great ongoing discussion on David Simon’s blog, The Audacity of Despair, about how to reconcile the untruth of our founding – that all men are created equal – with today’s factional cries to eek out and hold supreme the original intent of our founders.  I won’t try to repeat that here, but check it out there.  Lots of good work.

I want to focus on something else about this movie, something Mr. Simon touches on as well.

Sadism and soullessness was balanced by moments of regret and conscience on the part of white characters.  Accommodation and supplication on the part of Southern slaves was punctuated by moments of desperate courage and dignity.

That’s it — the thing that struck me so deeply about this movie.  Horrible, unforgivable sins and crimes were committed against the enslaved, but less commonly addressed is the disintegration of the souls of the perpetrators.

Note: I am not arguing that the damage was worse for the whites, so please don’t be ridiculous.

At the same time, I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without A Country, and came across this passage.

The wonderful writer Albert Murray, who is a jazz historian and a friend of mine among other things, told me that during the era of slavery in this country – an atrocity from which we can never fully recover – the suicide rate per capital among slave owners was much higher than the suicide rate among slaves.  (pg 68)

So maybe we can’t ever fully heal from this disgusting collective wound, but maybe progress can only come when we acknowledge the damage that slavery brought on all of us, whether we look more like the slaves or more like the slave-owners.

That fully recovering as a nation will require us to finally admit (and believe) that the scabs and scars don’t just mar the skin of the oppressed, but also of the oppressor.  This is not something THEY need to get over.  This is truly OUR shame, OUR damage, OUR problem.

11 thoughts on “Twelve Years a Slave”

  1. I might see the movie but at the same time with the climate and tension the way it is in this country coupled with the fact that I just moved to Tx recently I’ll pass. I don’t want to be reminded of how the more things change the more they stay the same. If I see it on cable or the Internet one day I’ll peep it but I’m not in a state to want to see something that’ll get me pissed off and depressed. Glad you saw the movie and liked it, that’s 1 person’s review and opinion that I hold in high regard that makes me want to peep it.

    1. Thanks. I’ll tell you, for sure, it is really, really hard to watch. There were scenes that I couldn’t even look at. I understand your POV, but definitely this is an important movie for our country.

      1. I hear you but the question is does ANYBODY else?

        Remember earlier this year when Brad Paisley performed that “Accidental Racist” song and commissioned LL Cool J to rap over it? It was TRULY an awful attempt at mending race relations but at least they tried. All people could do was poke fun at the song and trash it without even seeing what the whole meaning was behind it. Houston rapper-turned-college professor Bun B stated on his Twitter acct that what they did was something serious that needed to be addressed and folks shouldn’t be so quick to judge and crack jokes. When you do break the song down though it was really pathetic:

        White man plays the ignorant fool for being a racist without knowing it.

        Black man enters the picture and apologizes for the white man feeling guilty for his own bigotry.

        They both come to the conclusion that if they don’t bring up the white man’s racism then everything will be everything.

        What kind of SHIT is THAT? 😀 NO APOLOGY at all and ANYBODY should know by now whenever black people see that Dixie/Rebel flag that means 1 thing and 1 thing only: that the person wielding that flag in any fashion supports the system and mentality behind that symbol, that “the South shall rise again” and that we’ll be back to knowing our place in the back of the bus or in the cotton fields and walking in the gutter when a white person is walking towards us on the sidewalk and all kinds of Jim Crow crap. Anyone who says different is lying to you or themselves. Dude can’t give me that “I didn’t mean to offend anybody with my t-shirt, I just love Lynard Skynard”, which is a major reason why Lynard Skynard gets NO LOVE from me as far as country rock goes (neither does Larry the Cable Guy for sporting rebel flags constantly on his trucker caps).

        Ok rant over, just had to get that out. I’m sure you remember the hub-bub about that retarded-ass song. If you want to talk about some REALLY awesome anti-racism songs look no further than Sly and the Family Stone’s “Don’t Call Me Nigger”, Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo’s “Erase Racism (feat Big Daddy Kan & Biz Markie)”–yes, contrary to popular opinion by alot of dummies hip-hop did come out with some thought-provoking music and this song came out while I was in high school in the early 90s during the “Golden Age of Hip-Hop” as it was known before major labels took it over and turned it into the awful minstrel show it is now–and countless hardcore punk songs from the 80s. A country music artist is NOT going to cre8 a proper anti-racism song NO MATTER WHAT, that will never happen. Just look at the CMAs recently and how they ragged on Obamacare and had their hankerchief-headed house nigga Darius Rucker out there yukking it up with those million-dollar rednecks. They never bashed Bush like that and you saw what happened when someone did right? If you don’t ask the DIXIE Chicks, that is if you can find them doing anything these days.

      2. Oh yeah and I won ANOTHER music video contest! Well I wasn’t the only winner but I will get an autographed poster and album from the group as well as a chance to cre8 another music video for the band which sounds like a commission job from how they described it. Everything’s coming up roses for Senor Fly Guy. 😀

        1. Yay!

          And OMG, I’ve totally missed out on this country music crap. I have no idea how I missed it, I live in the country. OMG.

          Thanks for point us in the right direction on this one.

      3. Haaaa……..

        I don’t watch any music award shows but people were talking about that for a couple days that they were bashing Obamacare and did some stupid segment about it. I don’t find the fact that this country, supposedly the Greatest Country in the World, doesn’t have a proper health care system funny at all. If anything it’s very sad and nothing to joke about.

        1. You’re completely right about that. I need to peel off a post again about how much cancer treatment cost me. I have insurance, but the raw cost of my chemotherapies were $17k. I had 6. I also featured a friend last year who has no insurance and stage 4 breast cancer. It’s something no one wants to look at.

          All this silliness about how well the website works — sure, it could be better, but a well functioning website isn’t the point of the healthcare law.

      4. EXACTLY. People are missing the bigger picture which is everyone is 1 paycheck away from going broke if they have to go to the hospital for something or other. My older brother went to see some doctor this morning for a prostrate exam. He volunteered for some research and this new drug they have for your prostrate. He’s afraid that he might have cancer, he’s 45 and has said his prostrate has gotten pretty bad over the years to where now he’s constantly going to the bathroom, even after he takes a #1. I hope that isn’t the case, that would be unfortunate. My uncle died earlier this year after battling colon cancer for over 20 yrs. I thought he was going to beat it but I guess I was wrong. What bothered me more is that I didn’t know until a couple weeks ago because I wasn’t really talking to anybody in my family let alone friends (chalk that up to a shitty relationship that I’m not in anymore, I was pretty depressed and upset for a year and 1/2 due to that and other issues). Now that I’ve broken up and moved and starting over I’m trying to stay in contact with my friends and family.

  2. After a lot of cajoling, I finally agreed to go with Hubby to see this movie. Frankly, I get too emotional and prefer avoiding “for entertainment purposes” movies that evoke anger, pain, and unhappiness. I probably am one of a very few who never saw the movie Roots. But, your post and at Hubby’s urging, I plan to see this movie. Thank u for sharing.

  3. I agree that it’s a hard movie to watch in spots but that the message overrides that discomfort. It is something that every American should watch, despite the discomfort. The dignity shown by the slaves in the face of such atrocity and degradation is something from which I will forever be moved.

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