Tag Archives: McQueen

12 Years a Slave

27 Oct

‘12 Years a Slave’: Our shame gets visceral telling in the history of betrayed free man

By Tom Meek
October 25, 2013


The stain of slavery on American history has seen many renderings on celluloid, from the misguided pro-South, silent 1915 masterpiece by D.W. Griffith, “Birth of a Nation” that embosses Klansmen in a heroic light, to Quentin Tarantino’s recent revisionist fantasy, “Django Unchained,” in which the Klan are little more than Keystone cops in hoodies and an emboldened slave, freed of shackles and armed, rains down wrath on skin-trading vermin. Both are cinematic achievements in their own right, but neither gets fully at the foul plight of rooting day-to-day under the duress of an overseer’s whip. Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus” came close, but that sweeping epic took place centuries ago, long before the pilgrims hit the shores of Massachusetts and our European forefathers began an unwritten policy of treating people of nonwhite pigmentation like pests and livestock.

102513i 12 Years a Slave

The good (or grim, as it may be) news is that director Steve McQueen, who is black, British and an auteur of recent reckoning, goes at the matter in “12 Years a Slave” in a fashion that gets under the viewer’s skin in unexpected ways. It’s uncomfortable and telling. What McQueen achieves is a visceral experience that, while not a history lesson in the factual sense, becomes the de facto moral rendering of an era that should be recalled only with remorse and shame.  Continue reading