12 Years a Slave 2013 (R)


This heart-breaking true story recounts the horrors encountered after a free black man from the North, Solomon Northrup, is kidnapped and sent into slavery.  The acting is superb and the story is quite compelling.  It does have some minor anachronisms such as the use of the word terraforming, synthetic violin strings, and types of horse bridles, windows, and water hyacinth plants, which did not exist at the time.  It is also a bit odd that the main character shows no physical scars from nearly being hanged to death.  These do not interfere with the story, however.  The film does a good job generally of trying to replicate the speech patterns of the era.

The film makes no attempts to perpetuate myths such as the predominance of kindly masters or happy, docile slaves.  Instead, it depicts the inexplicable cruelty and brutality of this cursed institution in vivid detail, including the dehumanizing effects on slaves and slave owners alike.  Because of this, and some sexual content, I would definitely not recommend this film for younger viewers.  It does have tremendous educational value however, because it demonstrates that no black person, even a free man, was ever completely safe from slavery unless they left the U.S.A.  If you showed selected segments to mature students (with parent permission of course) the movie would be of great value in a high school U.S. history course. 

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