Know this – I am very pleased that 12 Years a Slave received the accolades heaped upon it. It was a good movie and in my opinion closely captures the inhumanity that is slavery.
However, I have a few words I would like to share regarding the movie, slavery and the perpetuation of horror and disease that still exists today.
I watched the movie in a Jamaican cinema ( which is an experience you should definitely try, if only for the ongoing commentary from the audience) and I was awestruck by the raw unadulterated images and injustice portrayed in the movie. The movie did not have any trappings of a fairytale finish, nor did it attempt to gloss over the absolute terror of slavery.
From a psychological point of view, I saw fear as masquerading anger, contempt and jealousy. I also saw the psychopathology inherent in slavery, not only from the slave side but also in the slave master. During the viewing I was struck by the revelation that slavery enslaved/enslaves not only the slave but also the slavemaster/backra/overser/planation owner. Complicit are all the people who worked around and in the business of slavery. The mind of people who enslave invariably became more riddled with obtuse justification and rage the longer the terms of their incarceration. Indeed, from a survival point of view the mind of a slave could and did become more addled enduring their terms of fate.
I remember Lupita Nyong’o’s performance and recalled thinking she was doing an excellent job of portraying one of the kinds of despondencies one would have to become to adapt, to survive that horror. The slightly crazed and disconnected dance she performed (in the presence of the rest of the slaves and the master and mistress of the plantation) was possibly one of the most bizarre scenes I have seen to date.
The long and short of it was that the movie was good at portraying as close to possible the spittle ridden worm that slavery was and still is. However, as gritty as it got, the movie only told a a small part of the torture, of even the true story it was telling, much less the far more wretched aspects of slavery. The real story of Solomon Northrup tells an even squalid tale, especially of the beating scene of Lupita’s character, including the fact that he (Solomon) was forced to splay her naked body on the ground pinned by stakes and give her 100 lashes. But I suppose that scene shot exactly the way it happened may have given it a different rating.
Other atrocities in first hand slave accounts of the day include being tied naked to an ant nest and covered with molasses. The masters would watch as the person writhed in agony. Or the other first hand account of being systematically raped by the plantation owner. Or the first hand plantation owner account of raping and murdering people who were slaves detailed in technicolour and horror in their daily journal. This accepted behavior in slavery today reeks of psychopathology outdone only by cannibalism. In my mind Slavery was made up of these and other atrocities and stands as examples of the depth that greed and groupthink can enact when given time and space.
The effects of slavery including the racism, skin bleaching, nose straightening, mindless self-loathing continues today. Although people are no longer allowed to physically squeeze the life out of a person with rope or hands for the color of their skin, in some places on earth people are allowed to kill other people only for instilling a rising fear in the mind of the murderer. People are still allowed to spit contemptuous verbal lynchings and every now and then people are still allowed to hang effigies of their own president for the color of his skin…well thats the land of the free for you. Indeed, slavery and the loathing of person’s for the color of their skin pervades our world’s consciousness in some absurd and pathological ways, too many to mention here.
The total disconnect of the ravages of slavery is so entrenched that even today some people (thanks to the twitterverse) voice that slaves were happy in their slavery and frolicked in the sunlight of the plantations.
Lost is the knowledge that slavery is not and will not ever be normal regardless of who is enslaved. Lost is the knowledge that slavery enslaves the slave as well as the master.
So my exalt to you is, understand not merely know the true history of humankind so you may never repeat it. Understand that slavery and racism is another example of a diseased mind. Here is an except of the New York Times original posting in 1853 of the story of Solomon Northrup, enjoy!: