The slave trade seems to be a popular theme of late in Oscar-nominated films. Just last year, Quentin Tarantino-directed Django Unchained raked in one of the major acting trophies, with Austrian-German actor Christoph Waltz winning his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
This year’s slave trade film takes on a more dramatic note, telling the heartbreaking true story of Solomon Northup, a free man who is kidnapped and forced into slavery for over a decade. Chiwetel Ejiofor takes on the role of Northup, alongside Michael Fassbender, Mary Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Benedict Cumberbatch and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o. Executive producer Brad Pitt makes a cameo appearance as a well-meaning Canadian carpenter.
Ejiofor is stellar as Northup, bringing so much genuine emotion and hurt to the role that we can feel his hurt through the screen. It isn’t every day that you find that in a film; especially one whose plot isn’t exactly personally relatable to yourself. Yet Ejiofor touches you emotionally, making you feel the hurt, the sorrow and the despair inside. It is simply a heartbreaking thing to behold.
Breakout Britons Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch provide strong supporting power with their performances, with Cumberbatch sporting a surprisingly convincing Southern accent (who knew?). Yet it is newcomer Lupita Nyong’o who has the ’emotion-through-the-screen’ act down to an art. Everything about her acting– from the eyes to the actions to the dialogue– everything about her exudes a raw, desperate hurt. There comes a point when you root for Patsy and wish that freedom came to her as well. (I’d rather not spoil). In her few minutes or so onscreen, Nyong’o gave a performance that stole the show, and is very, very deserving of the accolades she is receiving now.
What sets ’12 Years A Slave’ apart from other pro slavery-era films is that it chose to focus on the story of a single character. Most movies capture the slave trade era as a whole, barely choosing to center on the life of a particular slave. 12 Years A Slave gives us a whole new perspective of what happened during that dark period in American history– through the eyes of a man who was never even supposed to be a slave in the first place. That, among other things, is what makes this story so much more heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.
If you’re in search of a movie that is, in itself, a cathartic experience– 12 Years A Slave is the perfect film for you. Expect stellar work, slight tears, well-written dialogue and a movie that is powerful enough to stay with you for years to come.