With “12 Years a Slave”, broadcast tonight on France 5, Steve McQueen delivers a powerful and masterfully staged work on the authentic story of Solomon Northup, a free African American kidnapped and enslaved for 12 years.
In a mixture of shame and guilt, in the shadow of the Founding Fathers of Independence and the American Constitution, twelve of whom made slaves work on their plantations, the United States is still struggling to bring up the subject of slavery. Even if we must not hide the fact that many artists have preferred to privilege the history of Segregation and Civil Rights, treated many times in the cinema, such as Mississippi Burning or Malcolm X.
Why ? Because the end of slavery did not necessarily lead to real equality, and it was not until the beginning of the sixties (of the twentieth century) for this equality to emerge, with the culmination of great March to Washington for work and freedom led by Martin Luther King in 1963, and the signature of Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Since DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation in 1915, which gave the history of slavery a misleading and racist reading and which was intended to fuel propaganda in favor of segregationist politics, too few Hollywood fictions have testified to the reality of slavery in the United States, even if things tend to move very noticeably on the subject. As such, moreover, it is interesting
On this point, the Racines series, broadcast in 1977, had a significant impact. If it was obviously not free from faults, starting with the lack of rigor on certain facts or concern for details (which in no way detracts from its qualities, by the way), it had real educational virtues : before its broadcast on the small screen, many Americans were still unaware of the country’s slavery past …
12 Years a Slave, a salutary and historic film
Often presented as the heir to Spike Lee, the British Steve McQueen delivers with 12 Years a Slave, released in 2013 and broadcast tonight on France 5, a salutary and historic film. For at least two reasons. The first: this is the first Hollywood film dealing with the theme of slavery directed by a black director; was he non-American. The second: McQueen offers a point of view that contrasts radically with past film productions. Here, the film espouses the perspective of Solomon Northup, a free man reduced to a slave after being kidnapped and sold in 1841.
The unhappy man will tell a story of his ordeal in his memories; essential testimony written by the person concerned in 1853. 101 fugitives published a book on their slavery in the United States, but only Solomon Northup told his story as a free man, then that of his captivity, and that of his recovered freedom.
Below, the movie trailer …
Why did we wait so long to see a film in Hollywood dealing so fairly and sensitively with the subject? “In fact, the problem is that unlike the plethora of films about different historical atrocities like the Holocaust, there are few films on the subject of slavery.” wrote in an article Salamishah Tillet, Associate Professor of Anglo-African Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and now working at the Rutgers University in Newark.
And to continue: “but unlike films about the Holocaust, which allow American viewers to understand past traumas and mass violence as phenomena taking place outside the United States, films on slavery reveal the paradox that continues to haunt us: the strange marriage between racism and freedom, on which the country was founded “.
Even before having read Solomon Northup’s memoirs, which were a real success in his time, sold 17,000 copies, Steve McQueen already wanted to be able to make a film dealing with slavery and these blacks delivered “illegally” in the South. His wife then introduced him to Northup’s memories.
For him, it was the revelation: “I was shocked and fascinated by this extraordinary story. It almost reminded me of Pinocchio or a tale of the Brothers Grimm – the story of this man torn from his own and subjected to a long succession of trials, but for whom still shines a light at the end of the tunnel (…) This story is much larger than anything I have read or seen ” he said. “I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this book. How is that possible? Most …