Critique for Oscar wining movie ’12 Years a Slave’


By: Sumit kumar Yadav (Writer is student of 1st year, MA(Public Policy) at Jindal school of Government and Public Policy )

The movie is adaption of the book written by Solomon Northup in the year 1853 with the same name “12 years a slave”. Solomon was a free man who was kidnapped in 1841 in Washington, D.C and sold into slavery. During the initial time in his kidnapping he keeps on saying that he is a free man because his father was enslaved to a Northup family but was free afterwards. The kidnapping is done on by pretext of him offering a better payment on his performances with them by two men. The black human is treated like an object, a commodity which is sold in auctions and is tradable like animals. When Solomon wakes up he found himself in a dark cell tied with iron chains.

 He is beaten and given answer that “you ain’t a free man; you are a runaway nigga from Georgia when he tries to question that he is a free man to the captor; until he agrees that this is his fate and as soon as he admits it good for him. His idea that a black free man can co- exist with whites is totally crushed.  He is questioned for gratitude when he is offered a new shirt for his torn shirt after getting seriously beaten over period of time. As Fanon explained that the morals and ethics of colonizer or settler makes the native confused coz at one hand he is humiliated and exploited on the other hand he is taught morals of white society. His name is changed to Platt by which his identity is duplicated and no one would know that he was forced into slavery. This act of duplicating his name and he accepting it clearly signifies the submission of his being into slave from free man and detachment from reality he belongs to. They are carried into horse carriages and ships in dark to keep away from notice of police at a time it was by law allowed to hold black people as slaves and as well laws where one couldn’t hold a free man slave which in the end proves unreasoned in the world of whites.

At a time when Platt is to be bought by ford, the lady slave Eliza is distanced from her family by the auctioneer which is very cruel as the mother is separated from her children in spite her repeated calls of being a faithful slave to the owner. “His sentimentality extends the length of the cointhe trader doesn’t have sympathy for the nigga sentimentality but he cares only for his profit which he will make on trading the girll. The Ford’s wife says that the pain of separation with her family will soon be forgotten after some food and rest to Eliza, which is surprising as a mother she doesn’t recognize the pain of separation of children from her mother. Eliza says to Solomon you are no more than a prized livestock and if u feel he is your road to freedom then call him and let him know your previous circumstances and see for yourself what good it does as fanon had also pointed out that No professor of ethics, no priest has ever come to be beaten in the native’s place”   the trader employs few black men at his auction house who obey him as he gives order, which is strange when all this inhuman acts to their resembling humans doesn’t affect them and their mind thus completely changing them fundamentally which fanon pointed could only be changed through violence which would give them again sense of self-respect and restore humanity in them and forget alienation. The plantation manger feels humiliated when Platt i.e. Solomon fights back to him, he feels humiliating as its” humiliating for him against his inhuman treatment to the slaves”; reaction which is disrespect to his authority as master by a subaltern to him and he wants to earn back his respect by hanging Solomon to death from a tree clean him of.


(Courtesy: Google Images)

The whites used physical and mental injury to punish and suppress the aggression of Solomon and other blacks. As fanon pointed it’s the military which becomes spokesperson of the colonizer”; here in the movie lashes and whips become the tools of suppression. As Solomon fights with the plantation caretaker he is tried on to be hanged from the tree; when he gives the idea of using water channel as means of transportation he is challenged by saying if he is engineer or a nigga meaning if he is a slave or an engineer totally rejecting his idea in spite of him explaining his past skills. He is then rewarded with a violin in return of his idea which is signified by fanon saying certain native for rewards and medals would show their loyalty to the settler. At the time of gifting violin ford says hope that it brings joy over the years undermining Solomon’s life has no other joy than being free at that time.

When they are traded with other slave owner, the new owner feeds them that the slave should know his masters will and prepare not himself to violate it and act neither according to his will shall be beaten by mini stripes of 150 lashes and are told that it written in scripture. They are then  accused to bring upon a plague on him thus trading them to another person for the season. The surprising thing here is the Solomon belief in the lord even when patsey says there is no lord as lord is merciful and will forget his merciful act of taking a life given by him as its her will to die and still Solomon refuses to do as she requests.

The only thing missing as fanon had said that the aggression of the native will be channelled upon his own race in terms of quarrel and tribal warfare is completely missing in this plot; the slaves have lost their sense of respect and now they started behaving like machines rather like being human beings and have totally submitted and excluded from the inhuman instances around them. “The last shall be first and the first shall be last as Fanon had reflected that once a society is free of colonizers everyone would be treated equal which Solomon believes will be after, he is free and tries to prove that by fighting a case in the court against his captives and kidnappers. The movie is more than humiliation, it’s exploitative as it renders an institutional arrangement of violation of basic civil liberties and human rights and no option left to explore for reconciliation. It’s for act of violence as coercive tool to be at higher in the hierarchy of power relationship of black slave and white owner; it is rather inhuman.


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