In the 1850s, the country was divided over the issue of slavery, between slave states and free states. Although some states had seen the cruel and inhumane horrors of slavery and chose to reform, others in the deep south had not and the horror of slavery still hung over many African Americans heads. Many slaves in the South chose to run away through the Underground Railroad, but even after they escaped their masters, there was still danger. After the court case Dredd Scott vs Stanford, slaves were labeled as property to their masters, and therefore masters could bring their slaves to “free” states and could cross lines to retrieve their runaway slaves. The horrifying reality that people were treated like property aside, many freed blacks were also being taken unjustly because their rights were very few, and they couldn’t testify in court.
The movie 12 Years a Slave was a harrowing tale about a free African American man named Solomon who was stolen away into slavery in the deep south. The movie followed the man Solomon and his journey through many different masters, and to see the many evils of slavery. The director obviously made the movie to bring light to a very dark moment in American history that many people choose to forget and to expose the truths how they actually happened. I feel many people don’t know how truly bad slavery was, and just read about it as just another historical fact or story. Many moments in the movie brought out the horrors of slavery like when Patsey was raped by Epps or when Eliza’s children were ripped away from her. At the beginning of the movie, Solomon was away from his family with two white men who promised him money for performing music by traveling with them to Washington DC. After being considerably drunk, he goes to sleep and wakes up in shackles in a brick house. He is told that he is a runaway slave from Georgia and when he objects, he is whipped very harshly with a wooden board until he is completely broken down and finally agrees. He is then taken on a boat with two other captive slaves, and as one slave stands up for Eliza because he knows she is going to be raped, he gets stabbed and dies. This shows how little regard the white men had for African American’s lives, and how they treated them less than human.
An important thing to understand is the overall power unbalance and that the white men had all the power over their slaves and their wives. There was a very stark hierarchy in southern society with slaves at the bottom, then women, then the white men. An example of this is when Epps wife is very cruel to Patsey because she knows her husband has shown her favor and wants to get rid of her, but Epps tells her that he would sooner get rid of her than Patsey. This shows the total control the white plantation owner had over his house, and yet the wife stays with him because she is afraid of him, and the slaves stay for the same reason. Another important aspect of slavery that was brought to light was the different types of masters in the south. Although many were very cruel to their slaves, some treated them like humans and granted them some freedoms. In the movie, when Solomon is brought off the boat Eliza and he are sold to a man named Ford; he is uncharacteristically kind for a slave master by trying to buy Eliza’s children as well as her to not break up the family, and although it doesn’t work out, he lets her mourn and feels pity for her. Solomon has an idea to make the shipping better in the lumber plantation, and for doing this Ford rewards him with a violin. One of the overseers Tibeats is jealous of Solomon’s attention, and when Solomon tries to correct him on an instruction, Tibeats tries to beat him. Solomon retaliates by taking Tibeats whip and beating him with it, to which Tibeats runs away and gets his friends to help him lynch Solomon. Ford then finds Solomon and cuts him down, and tries to protect him from Tibeats and saves his life by sending him to another slaver named Epps. Epps, on the other hand, is very cruel to his slaves and works in the cotton industry. If a slave doesn’t make enough cotton, he punishes them and beats them with a whip on any whim. These two slavers, although both similar in that they owned slaves, they were different in that one treated the slaves with humanity and the other treated them like cattle.
In conclusion, I thought 12 Years a Slave was important, but a harrowing movie. I would recommend it to other students because it was very suspenseful and had a lot of powerful messages in it. It also brings to light and a horrible atrocity in our history many choose to forget and reminds us really how recently slavery existed, by telling stories that history has forgotten. The only reason I would tell other students to stay away from this movie is that it is very graphic, but that sets the tone for the overall movie and structures the overall gravity of this historical event.