I was fortunate enough to see one of the last showings of “12 Years a Slave” in theaters last night.  I have watched a variety of movies from different time periods − early silent films, the Golden Age, contemporary and foreign films.  However, I can’t recall a time that I have felt so heavily emotionally impacted as when I left the theater last night.

If you aren’t familiar with the movie, the film is based on a real story about a man named Solomon Northup.  The account starts with Solomon in his Northern state of New York.  However, the story continues quickly into the kidnapping, separation from family, and sale of Solomon as he was taken to a slave exchange in the South.  The scenes are graphic, but necessary to illustrate the devastating cruelty that occurred.  I won’t go further into details as you need to see the movie to understand it completely.

 

I will say, however, three primary dispositions existed for the white characters in this film:

  1. Relentless hatred is exhibited by the slave owners, or “masters”, and overseers.  These individuals would take on debt in order to have slaves work for them.  Nonetheless, they appear merciless in assaulting the slaves, referred to as “their property”, physically and emotionally.
  2. Forced-oblivion describes the individuals who appeared to have some benevolent thoughts (such as Master Ford, if you saw the movie).  Slave owners and plantation workers, perhaps, yet righteous to an extremely minor degree.  They did not go out of their way to harm the slaves, as others may have.  Yet, they wouldn’t go far in protecting them either.  One would rather remove the problem altogether by selling a slave than confront another white man regarding their immoral behaviors.
  3. Freedom-embracing is how you would like to believe all the Northerners lived.  These individuals theorized that one man was equal to another, regardless of skin, and were therefore scorned by Southerners.  In this category, the differences among men comes down to personalities, morals and behaviors.  This is the freedom and equality that we strive for to this day.

Unfortunately, all three groups exist today.  White supremacists remain in cults and in politics.  Many others attempt to turn a blind eye to the entire issue rather than face it, hoping it will just go away.

I believe I fit in that final category with many others, embracing freedom and equality.  The progressive group.  I may not take stands, arrange to meet and discuss the issue, or donate to a foundation trying to abolish racism.  Instead, I’m hoping to use the advice I give at the end of this article.

 

What does this movie do for us?

For most of us, it educates through empathy, appreciation, guilt and sorrow.  It’s unbelievable that anyone could sit through this movie and not be emotionally shaken.  But, through hardships we must always find a benefit.  While the world may be better without negative happenings, they are inevitable at times, or already implanted into history.  We can only hope to move forward stronger.  12 Years a Slave provides three overriding lessons to each of us.

Lesson 1: Strategy is Paramount
  • Solomon was strategic in actions and words throughout the movie.  There were times when others would want to rise up and fight, but Solomon knew it wasn’t the right move.  Manage your emotions and actions with clear thoughts.
  • Talents had to be hidden to avoid risk.  Solomon could have displayed his talents, such as reading and writing.  However, being educated in his situation was far too dangerous for the little good it could accomplish.  Learn to manage your risks.
  • Finally, the strategy of manipulation he would use at times could be masterful.  Understanding his audience, the slave owner and overseers, allowed him to survive.  Understanding human psyche to win!
Lesson 2: Never Submit
  • Twelve years is an awfully long time for one to trudge ahead through such adversity.  Nevertheless, times of hardship should never yield your desire to live.
  • Positivity in an environment that breeds negativity is not easily attained.  Don’t lose focus.
  • Hope and memories can keep you strong.  Family, friends, and your ideal life can keep you moving forward when your body doesn’t want to anymore.
Lesson 3: Survival Isn’t Living
  • We have a limited time on this planet, and if we are living, we want to extend that as long as we can.
  • Not everyone is living, however.  Some are merely surviving.  When you submit to only surviving, life is already lost.  That doesn’t mean you can’t fight to get it back though.

 

What can you do now?

I can say that you can start making a stand against racism.  You can do that − start a rally or protest against the drivers of racial disparity.  But I think there is one much more simple but still effective method here…

If you haven’t seen this movie, go see it now.  If you have, start sharing it.  Bring others to the movie with you, or just get them to see it on their own.  When it’s out on DVD, buy it and start sharing it with friends and family.  The education that the movie provides should awaken anyone to the issue that is still among us today.

 

 

(Featured Photo from Tulane Publications, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), flickr.com/photos/pburch_tulane/10744964793/.)