*****

Because the law states that your liberties are undeniable? Because society deems it so? Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and Black alike.

Brad Pitt as Bass, 12 Years a Slave, © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox.

Brad Pitt as Bass, 12 Years a Slave, © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox.

We are truly blessed to live in a society in a time when the vast majority of us live without slavery and without the fear of impending death. I believe that we reached this point through the blood of patriots and innocents alike. At the same time, with each year removed from the passing of the 13th Amendment and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, we increasingly take things for granted and allow myth to replace history. The great thing about this film is that its acumen made me feel like I was watching the true life tragedy of Solomon Northrup. It used art to reinvigorate history.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northrup in 12 Years a Slave.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northrup in 12 Years a Slave.

I had the DVD from Netflix for this film for approximately 9 months before I finally watched it. As the winner of the Best Picture Academy Award, what kept me from putting in such an acclaimed film with a cast of actors whom I loved? You might expect me to say white guilt, but I do not think that was the deterrent. For me, watching depressing movies comes at the perceived cost of ruining my evening. In reality, great movies rarely prevent me from enjoying the rest of my night even as much as mundane technological failures do. But I never choose to have my iPhone start to break, or for Microsoft Word to crash, whereas I have to actually choose to wade into the chilly water to watch a tragedy. When I can jump into a pool—with people who want to watch it in a theater—that comes easier than cold water slowly splashing up my body. I am really enjoying this metaphor, so I will say that this film my body never adjusted to the temperature. In a way similar to The Hurt Locker, fear gripped me almost every scene . Even when conditions seemed non-life threatening, the anxiety was there. To call it paranoia would be inappropriate since the only one I knew would survive the film was Solomon Northrup—Chiwetel Ejiofor, the Operative from Serenity. But why should I feel his fear? I was safe on a couch in Albany, NY. Of course that is only 30 miles from Saratoga, where Northrup seemed safe too.

In addition to Ejiofor, every other actors was great. Well cast by Francine Maisler–The Usual Suspects–and directed by Steve McQueen, for which he was nominated by both the Academy and Hollywood Foreign Press. Fassbender–great. Giamatti–awful as a human being, thus great. Cumberbatch–delightfully flawed and un-Holmesian. Sarah Paulson–believably wretched. Lupita Nyong’o–justifiably won the Oscar for best supporting actress. Even Paul Dano has stuck with me for his evil and his memorable singing voice.

Now if you will permit me a moment to play both social critic and soothsayer, I believe that some day there will be a film made about the awful prison conditions in our country. How we have overcrowded detention facilities that racist laws have filled to overflowing. All stemming from capitalists try to get rich off the suffering of the convicted. If our cinema stays true to itself, some old story will be used and the timing will make it seem like a commentary on current conditions, like the prior year’s Oscar best picture winner, Argo.

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