“12 Years a Slave” is a movie that tells a powerful real-life-based story of a free person forced into slavery. However, just as any piece of art, the movie is dependent not only on the storyline it renders but also on its creators’ backgrounds and the political conditions in which it was produced.
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The events illustrated in the movie leave little place for comfort – which is predictable: one only has to look at the title to realize what they are going to see will be quite unsettling. The movie is an accurate reproduction of the original narrative, which is an autobiography. Upon its publication, the story did not seem to cause much agitation and was largely forgotten. The movie, in its turn, reminds the viewer of the necessity to research and rediscover the history – which is a component of its overall message.
Another dimension is the personalities of people who work on this movie. The director is known to have slaves in his ancestry, while some of the acting crew are slave drivers’ descendants. The movie, therefore, can be regarded as simultaneously a tribute and an apology for the wrongdoings of the past.
Finally, director Steve McQueen has explicitly stated that slavery is not at all over. Today, a shamefully large part of the world’s population are de facto slaves, which is why the movie has a third purpose: increasing global awareness and calling to action.
“12 Years a Slave,” therefore, can hardly be called an escapist movie. The message it conveys is that history – even its most shameful instances – should be researched, revisited, and remembered but never repeated.