|Bound and chained|
'12 Years a Slave' prompts a look at American slavery in film and television
By David Walker
Based on Solomon Northrup's memoir, acclaimed director Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" has already had a tremendous impact on audiences. At the Toronto Film Festival, some people walked out of the screening because of the scenes of violence and brutality, while those who stayed ended up giving the film a 10-minute standing ovation. Lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is being mentioned as an Oscar contender for his performance as Northrop, a free black man in New York who is abducted and sold into slavery. Northrup's vivid, soul-crushing recollections of his life as a slave have become an indispensible tool in better understanding the horrific reality of slavery in America — a subject that has become distorted and misunderstood, in large part because of how it has been portrayed in film and television. If "12 Years a Slave" is in fact too brutal or violent for audiences, or seems too shocking, part of the reason is because many people still don't comprehend the reality of the forced enslavement of Africans and their descendants. What passes for an understanding of slavery in America has been shaped by years of misrepresentations that started with a revisionist version of history that emerged after the Civil War. This alternate and inaccurate version of slavery and the Civil War, known as the Lost Cause, made its way into motion pictures, where it became part of popular culture, and mistaken for the truth. Here is a look at the history of slavery in America, as it has been presented in films and television.
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"12 Years a Slave" is out in theaters Oct. 18.
("12 Years a Slave"/Fox Searchlight Pictures)