“12 Years a Slave”

a movie that viewers will never forget

D. Kevin McNeir | 10/31/2013, 9 a.m.
If there’s one film you must see this fall, the hand’s down choice has to be “12 Years a Slave,” ...

If there’s one film you must see this fall, the hand’s down choice has to be “12 Years a Slave,” which opens on Nov. 1st at the Coral Gables Art Cinema for a one-week run. When the movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, it snagged the People’s Choice Awards and is already gathering momentum for receiving several Oscar nominations, including best actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Ejiofor powerfully portrays Solomon Northup — an educated, free Black man from upstate New York on whose narrative the movie is based. Imagine being Northup — an industrious husband and loving father who is abducted by white men jealous of his accomplishments and sold into slavery. As the title indicates, Northup remains enslaved for 12 years before a chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist provides him with a chance for freedom.

The story of Northup, when it was first published just before the beginning of the Civil War, became one of the sparks that fueled the movement to abolish slavery. The book confirmed the fictional account of Southern slavery as made famous by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’ Cabin.” But Northup’s story was not make believe — it was real.

On screen, his tale of indignation, rage and his determination to survive and eventually regain his freedom, is set in the context of one of the most cruel and often lethal locations in slavery’s history — the Louisiana plantation. Actor Michael Fassbender sheds a new light on the evil slave master while newcomer Lupita Nyong’o will quickly endear herself to her viewers. Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodward also bring stellar performances. But the real star in this movie is Ejiofor — a Black British actor with a Nigerian heritage.

“Hundreds of thousands of Igbo from the east were taken out of Nigeria and brought around the globe, specifically to Louisiana and the south of America,” he said. “So I feel connected to the experience, to the history and to the reality of it all. If we’re constantly trying to separate each other then we’re missing the point.”

Director Steve McQueen brings a provocative story of evil in its most profound form — man’s inhumanity to man — and forces us to once more consider how slavery, in both its former and more contemporary, nuanced forms, continues to separate humans and to devalue the human spirit.