12 Years A Slave

published on 13 Feb 2014

It’s a fortnight since I saw it, but it continues to affect me - lurking just outside the bounds of my conscious-thought, waiting to sneak up and catch me off-guard. When it does, I find myself experiencing something of what I felt as I watched – and, always, it's unpleasantly disturbing!

12 Years A Slave is the film I saw a fortnight ago - a film which evoked strong emotions in me. I’ve tried to examine what I felt, and feel, and discover a mixture of emotions - anger, incredulity, frustration, anxiety, exasperation, fear, outrage.

As I watched, I found myself dragged in - initially into the story unfolding on the screen. I kept trying to tell myself that this was from the distant past, from the history books, but the awful suffering of the victims, the awful self-deception of the perpetrators and the awful silence of the bystanders forced me from my dispassionate position. I flinched at scene after scene of man’s inhumanity to man played out through this true story – duly ‘Hollywoodised’ – of a free man, Solomon Northup, who is duped and ends up in slavery. I’d seen worse scenes on film, of course. The flogging of Jesus in The Passion of The Christ is far more gruesome than anything portrayed in 12 Years A Slave.

Yet, as I watched a slave-owner, hysterical to the point of madness, forcing Solomon to flog a fellow-slave unmercifully, I found myself dragged into thoughts about South Africa during the dark days of Apartheid. There were strong parallels, and the sense of incredulity at people being aware of the plight of these slaves and yet doing nothing about it, was replaced by an understanding of the sense of impotence, the guilt of not seeing what needed to be seen, the uncertainty of not knowing whether not seeing was a choice; unpleasantly disturbing feelings.

As we left the cinema, I found myself peeved at the laughter of a young man as he joked with his date. “Had he not been affected by what he had seen?” I wondered. “How insensitive to be jocular after viewing such atrocities!”

I was not allowed to savour that feeling of moral superiority for long, for we had not reached the door before I made the inevitable connection - slavery exists today. People are being taken against their will and forced to work and live in appalling conditions, not unlike those portrayed in the film of events from two centuries ago. An alarming stream of women, men and children from mainly Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa are being trafficked into the United Kingdom. Sold for amounts ranging from £800 to £20,000, they are forced into the sex industry, domestic servitude or labour - one child was even brought in and had an organ removed. There are reports of children from within the UK being trafficked within our borders. It is not from the distant past. History is repeating itself, not just in the UK, but all over the world.

The feeling of outrage, and of impotence, evokes unpleasantly disturbing feelings.