First 12 Years A Slave Clip Starts Us In Happier, Less Torturous Times

By Sean O'Connell 2013-09-27 13:28:15discussion comments
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Marketing Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave to a mainstream audience will present challenges. So it will be interesting to see which scenes Fox Searchlight choose to isolate when trying to lure audiences into what is, without a doubt, the most uncompromising and honest portrayal of the brutality of American slavery that we’ve seen on screen in recent years … if not ever.

The above clip, for example, is set in a safer time – but it’s still exists to help demonstrate McQueen’s point that a free Black man was unusual. The scene was posted on Vulture. It shows us Chiwetel Ejiofor’s character, Solomon Northup, as he strolls through town with his family. In the scene, we can see that Solomon is a respected man, used to doing business with the local shop keeper. And we can see the look of astonishment on the face of another Black man who, unfortunately, belongs to a white owner with little tolerance for human rights. It’s heartbreaking how the shop owner simply mistakes the second African American as just another potential customer. In the North, such reasonable thinking still existed. But we’re slapped in the face by the realization that in the time of McQueen’s movie, Blacks hadn’t yet earned full equality … and it’s a serious issue Northup will face for the duration of McQueen’s movie.

The nastiness awaiting Northup as 12 Years progresses is left out of this clip – a wise decision, for the time being. But sooner rather than later, Searchlight is going to have to sell 12 Years as the harrowing experience it delivers, which is fine, because those seeking out a relentless march through our nation’s sullied past will get the entire experience in McQueen’s heartwrenching film. But this clip isn’t a fair or accurate representation of the fate that awaits either Mr. Northup or the 12 Years audience. The “worst” is yet to come.

All of this being said, anyone who reads up on or researches 12 Years will know exactly what they are in store for when the awards contender opens on Oct. 18. In fact, if you have seen any of McQueen’s previous, meticulous studies in human resilience, than you can understand what’s on the horizon in 12 Years. I raved about it in a video blog from the Toronto International Film Festival, but I also acknowledged that I’m not entirely sure when I’ll have the stomach to sit through this difficult, emotional drama again. But you should seek it out, particularly if you enjoy searing, brilliantly constructed and executed cinema. Here’s the full trailer, which paints a bigger picture of McQueen’s movie.


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