Review: 12 Years A Slave made me question everything I thought about racism in today’s society.

I just wanted to share this clip from 12 Years A Slave. Aside from this film tearing my heart out, it also gave the best and clearest example of exactly why white people using the word nigger is never EVER okay (I know I just used it, it’s so you understand what I mean.)

I get that in today’s society, a ton of black culture has been appropriated, and that people who identify as racially tolerant (god that phrase is cringey) think it’s okay to use the word, because they don’t mean it in a malicious way. To be honest, I’ve been one of them. I like hip hop and some rap music, and you can barely go six seconds without hearing that word thrown around. If you’re like me and enjoying singing along to music in your car or with friends, it becomes inevitable that you’ll say it as you’re imagining you’re as badass as Childish Gambino.

But the truth is, no matter to whom or in what context it’s used, the history behind a white person’s usage of that word will never ever change.

I think that while we’re a constantly evolving society, with language that’s fluid and culture that changes, it’s important to remember that not everything can be forgotten, and that not everything that has passed is up for grabs. I think we need to take the time to realise that despite everything, racism still exists in places, and that there are people who would, and do, use the word maliciously.
White privilege exists. It doesn’t necessarily exist now because we choose for it to, but because of choices people have made in the past. Significant choices that perpetuated slavery and racism for hundreds of years.

No matter how dearly we cling to the notions of acceptance and human rights for everyone, we cannot argue that equality lives in everyone’s heart. Not yet anyway.

As for the film itself? It was a brutal, chilling, and totally perfect piece of cinema. The scope of the shots, the depth of the plot, the strength of the performances; all of these culminated to create an entirely soul-decimating film.

If there’s anybody I’d put my money on to beat DiCaprio to the Oscar this year, it’s Chiwetel Ejiofor. And you know what? As much as I think Leo deserves a nod for his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street (which I think is career-defining), it would be a real shame if Chiwetel was overlooked. I’d be happy for either of them to take home the golden man, I really would. But no matter who wins, I will feel bad for the other.

I’d also like to put my dollars down on Mr Michael Fassbender for his blood-curdlingly evil Epps for the man to pip Jared Leto to the Best Supporting Actor post. I think Leto was flawless in his role as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club (can we just take a minute to appreciate those legs please?!), but Fassbender was scene-stealing for every second he was onscreen, and honestly, I think it would be an absolute crime if Leto took it out over Fassbender this year. But then, I should admit I’m totally and utterly Fass-biased.

Paul Dano, ever the psycho, stuns as the carpenter and plantation manager Tibeats. As you can see from the clip I posted above, he definitely enjoys the perks and the superiority afforded him as a white man with black slaves. He also has no qualms in showing this superiority off, like an exhibitionist.
I have a really strong love for Paul Dano, spawned from my late-teenage love affair with his broody, silent Dwayne in Little Miss Sunshine. Since then, I’ve kept an eye on his career, and think he has gone from strength to strength in his choice of roles (did you guys see Prisoners? Mother of god, the kid is creepy and magical at the same time, it’s just not right.) As John Tibeats, he does not disappoint.

Lastly we come to the gorgeous Lupita Nyong’o, who plays the highly sought after Patsey. The only thing I can see in my mind though when I think of her is the brutality she suffered through at the hands of Epps and his jealous wife. I can never unsee her back open up under the whip cracks. I can never unsee the blood spatter or the way she dealt with being raped. A lot is being made of her performance by the masses, and to be honest I didn’t totally agree at first that she deserved a nomination. But perhaps it’s more a marker of her performance that I can’t remember anything she said, merely the way her face showed me everything she couldn’t speak aloud. Perhaps I got it wrong. Because her plight was horrific, and though an injustice was done to Solomon Northup, wasn’t an injustice done to every single human who was put into slavery? In some ways, looking back now, Patsey’s life was much more tragic that Solomon’s. Though I doubt there’d be anyone to argue against that.

Cinematographically, 12 Years A Slave is a masterpiece. Gorgeous pans across vast fields of cane and cotton, across marshes, across seas. There is a use of the elements, both the sunlight and the moonbeams, that give the film a really natural grounding. And on a deeper level, anybody with an intrinsic abhorrence for racism, intolerance, slavery and injustice will have their heart torn out.

This movie is not for the faint-hearted. There are two particularly horrifying scenes of brutality, both of which will make you uncomfortable. But that’s exactly what they’re meant to do, because slavery isn’t comfortable. Racism isn’t comfortable. Crimes against humanity aren’t comfortable. None of this part of our past is acceptable, and if you can watch a man balance on his toes for over 10 minutes just to survive without squirming in your chair once, then the movie’s purpose will be lost on you.


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