12 Years a Slave: Q+A


With the Oscars just a few days away, Grace and I have decided to tackle a few of the Oscar nominated films.

Today, 12 Years a Slave.

Grace to Mia:

1. Did you know this was based off of book? Have you read the book and is the story true?

I did know this was based off of a book but I have yet to read this first hand account of kidnap and survival.

2. How do you feel about the actor choices? Chiwetel Ejiofor? Michael Fassbender? Lupita Nyong’o? Do you like the director, Steve McQueen?

The first two actors you’ve mentioned I’ve witnessed before in varying roles and have enjoyed their performances. At first, I was a bit skeptical whether or not these Brits could handle such a hard and truly American tale but they carried their performances with such grace and complexity that I don’t think an American counterpart would have garnered such praise. As for Nyong’o, the girl can act. She was by far one of the most captivating characters in this film and in my opinion stole the show. I’m rooting for a Best Supporting Actress win for her at this upcoming Oscars ceremony. This is the first Steve McQueen film I’ve experienced and because of the beautiful imagery in this film, I plan to check out his previous two (Hunger, Shame) in the near future.

3. What scenes spoke to you the most? and why?

There were a number a scenes that stick out to me, but if I have to narrow it down, I’d say any scene in which a long take was captured and the ending scene. The former because the cinematography was just brilliant and the latter because that’s when it really hit home for me. **SPOILER** Watching him return home after all those years and seeing, with him, his grown children, aged wife, and new grandson had me bursting into tears. Here was his family and he hardly knew them. Where was the seven year old girl we saw only hours before? Instead we were subjected to this new, altered reality of time gone by only in span of hours.

4.Did the cinematography and music strike you enough for you to notice, the way it did with me?

Yes. The cinematography was GORGEOUS. I could look at that film for days.

5. How do you feel whenever they make African American-centric movies? Do you feel obligated to watch them? Is historical accuracy important to you? How does it make you feel emotionally? 

Such a big question that I could write multiple essays about! Ok, let’s see…I’m glad there’s been a recent renaissance of black film in mainstream cinema. I’m also glad that they aren’t being helmed by Tyler Perry. No, I don’t feel obligated to go see ALL African-American centric films but I will support those filmmakers who are making films that don’t stereotype the race. So while I steer clear of anything Tyler Perry (98% of the time), I will however go see such films as Black Nativity, Best Man Holiday, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, Pariah, etc.

Historical accuracy is really important to me; it truly bugs me when filmmakers take creative license when it comes to their historical dramas.

Bonus Q: Do you feel an specific connections to a story like this culturally? Do you feel connections between the historical story and the present?

“Connection” is a broad and vague term but when it comes to such historical films depicting African American diaspora in the US, I can’t help but feel connected in a familial sense.

Let me explain: Given that my family migrated from Louisiana to Oklahoma on the brink of the Great Depression and then expanded further to the likes of California and Texas, there’s this sense of identity that my family has grappled with especially when “our people” are represented in the media. As a 5th grader I was subjected to all seven ROOTS VHS tapes one summer instead of spending those months outdoors. I was required to read the Autobiography Malcolm X and memorize parts of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech not by my teaches but my family who didn’t want me to lose, what they call, my “sense of identity.” My family, and probably others like mine, didn’t want me to forget where our race came from and how far we’ve progressed and how far there’s still left to go.

So when films like Red Tails, Best Man Holiday and 12 Years a Slave hit the theaters, one can’t help but feel and “connect” to something. It’s refreshing to see your race, the people you identify with, up on the big screen in a non-Tyler Perry sort of way. And with 12 Years a Slave, I was surprised to learn that most of my relatives over the age of 65 refused to go see the film on the basis that they were “still mad.”

For some, still, the horrors of American slavery still haunt our verbal narrative and they can’t bring themselves to see it unfold on the big screen. Now, as creative individual myself, I don’t agree with such things. After all, it’s a film, and a well crafted and beautiful film at that. This isn’t the Spaghetti Western that was Django Unchained or even Roots for that matter, 12 Years a Slave, for me, was finally a film that did its best objectively to tell the story of a slave. So in a way, yes, I connected with the story. Slavery was the way of life for my ancestors and there’s no sense of me to try to ignore that. Some relatives think our generation is too far removed from history while others feel like this film is a hand, pulling us back in time to remind us of what was…so in a word, yes. There is definitely a connection with this film between the past and present that all humanity can appreciate; especially in the grand ‘ol US of A.

Mia to Grace:

1. Why did you see 12 Years a Slave?

I had heard a lot of good things about the performances and the movie itself. I liked Chiwetel from Serenity, Michael from Jane Eyre, Benedict from Sherlock and everyone on the internet was raving about Nyong’o. Given the epic proportions of the story, I knew I wanted to watch it on the big screen. I was really kinda worried because Steve McQueen’s Shame made me super uncomfortable and Hunger was also brutal to watch and experience.

2. Did you think Steve McQueen objectively portrayed slavery in the US or do you think he favored one side over the other?

I think it was a delicate balance and he did it well. Obviously the story was about a man who was kidnapped and enslaved and it wasn’t going to look good for the white folks. I’m not sure if it was true to the book and the real account but I think knowing the audience Steve tempered the story with William Ford the compassionate first owner who attempts to buy the children and the women. He also gives Soloman the violin. He seemed to know that Soloman was more than a slave and recognized Solomon for his work. It is a pity he does not do more. Also they added the gentleman from Canada, Samuel Bass, he also lightened the dark disgust that was building upon most of the white characters in this movie. I think it was artfully done and in just the right tone to drive a message home.

3. Did you ever close your eyes? If yes, when and why? If no, why not do you think?

I can’t distinctly remember closing my eyes. While I remember an emotional pressure none of the scenes were gory or excessively violent. McQueen really pushed the level of discomfit with the length and pace of his scenes not with the amount of gore or violence.

4. What was the most powerful scene for you and why?

The scene where Solomon is in the noose and just barely keeping from choking was evocative. It really lingered with me. It still makes me feel the horrible sadness just thinking about it.

5. Given past attempts in cinema to accurately capture the slave narrative, how do you think McQueen did?

I can’t recall other slave narratives but I thought this movie had a terrible beauty and if there was a way to put some beauty in with the horrible events that unfold Steve McQueen did it. This was definitely a cinematic event.


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