On October 28th, my girlfriends and I attended the opening of the movie “12 Years a Slave” in Houston at the historic River Oaks Theatre. This was the only theatre in Houston showing the movie on the second limited opening across the nation. As the “unofficial” coordinator of our girlfriend gatherings, I was really excited about getting my great friends together to attend. We are a multi-cultural group of single, divorced and widowed women who strive to reach across stereotypical boundaries to truly know and understand one another. Whenever we are together I think of that old Marvin Gaye song “What’s Going On?” and the verse “Talk to me, so you can see, what’s going on.”
Our group had attended the movie “The Butler” a couple of months ago and saw the preview for “12 Years a Slave” at that time. It created a buzz among us especially when we discovered that only one of us had ever heard of Solomon Northup and she is Anglo-American! She learned about him in school in upstate New York whereas those of us who grew up in the South had never heard of him. This is another testament to the sad state of our country’s educational system and the travesty it teaches named American History. It is my hope that one day the historic journeys and contributions of all of America’s citizens will be included in the history books but until then I guess we will discover it in bits and pieces. These were my thoughts as we waited for the start of the movie on that day. Since October 28th, I have seen the movie twice more and read the book that Solomon Northup published in 1853. I waited to read his book before blogging about the movie.
The movie was brutally honest. It accurately depicted the grave injustice and inhumanity that was done to Solomon Northup, as a free citizen, and to the enslaved African-Americans he encountered on his journey. In my opinion, director Steve McQueen was very deliberate in bringing this disturbing subject to life for those of us who can never imagine the impact of slavery on a human being. The superb performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon), Lupita Nyong’o (Patsy), and Michael Fassbender (Epps) evoked such a range of emotions in me that my heart actually raced. There were many moments during the movie where my thoughts could not process what was happening on the screen. I was compelled to view it multiple times until my soul was satisfied. I am grateful to the director, producers, and actors for bringing this troubling and painful story to the forefront.
The reading of Solomon Northup’s book took me to an even deeper place. Reading his own words written in 1853 about what happened to him and his thoughts about it brought me to a level of sad discontentment. Every word he wrote was a contradiction to all that I had been taught as a student in my history classes. I wanted justice for him so badly and wondered what can be done for him in this present time. The only act I think that can be consolation for me is to encourage others to see the movie and read his book. Also, I want for others to encourage their friends and family to spread the word, too.
I think that every American should see the movie and read the book because Solomon Northup’s journey as an American citizen is worthy to be known by all. Slavery in America is a subject that many of us do not want to acknowledge, discuss, and review. Some descendants of former slave owners and former slaves want to continue to ignore this past because it is uncomfortable for them. However, the historical fact is that America was founded on the economic benefit of slavery and America had the largest slavery system in the history of the world. These facts are a part of our dark past and our laws have evolved beyond that past. But, if we continue to exclude the truth about slavery and the impact on American citizens from the history classes in our educational system, how can we truly determine that we have evolved beyond our dark past? What does it say to the memory of those who suffered through it and fought against it? These are the questions that our American society, in the present time, must answer.
Have you seen the movie? If so, please share your thoughts/experience.
If you haven’t seen the movie, do you plan to see it? Why?
Would you consider reading the book?
How do you feel about the history that is taught in American public schools?