My thoughts on the much-talked-about "12 Years A Slave"
I was lucky enough to see "12 Years A Slave" a week before it opens and do some red-carpet interviews with the cast. I will transcribe and post the interviews later but for now I want to talk about the movie.
During the cast Q&A after the screening, Steve McQueen said this book should be required reading in every school in America. He was right. I tried to read Solomon Northrup's book before I saw the movie but I only got 50 pages in before running out of time. From what I read, no history book is going to describe the many facets -- including the utter brutality -- of slavery as Northrup's first-person account does.
Going into this, I wasn't sure the movie would live up to the hype (I didn't think "Gravity" lived up to its hype), and I was pleasantly surprised. Chiwetel Ejiofor's powerful performance brought viewers into his despair, but he also managed to keep his head above water and take opportunities that were presented to him to make sure his mind and soul didn't get lost. The beauty of this movie was that McQueen didn't place Ejiofor's struggle on a pedestal, and both told the story as it was: A normal man in an awful situation, day in, day out.
The other standout performance was newcomer Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey, Northrup's fellow slave at Edwin Epps (portrayed as twisted, disgusting, and as Southern as can be by Michael Fassbender). Patsey's life is probably the saddest in the movie, because she has no hope of rescue, nobody from the North to come look for her, and she's the object of hatred of Mrs. Epps (Sarah Paulson) and desire of Mr. Epps. Nyong'o's performance is haunting and remains with you after the movie ends. The most disturbing scene is when Epps orders Northrup to whip Patsey. Epps winds up taking over to whip Patsey harder. While we don't see all of the violence, we do see Patsey's face and hear her cries of pain, shame and despair; we see Northrup's struggle; we see Epps' sick determination; we see Mrs. Epps desire to see Patsey hurt.
According to Fassbender and Nyong'o there was only about 15 minutes of rehearsals between the two, as well as between Nyong'o and Ejiofor. I believe that was a smart move, it made the scenes and emotions I felt (the humiliation, despair and disdain/wrath) that much more powerful.
I will be surprised if McQueen, Fassbender, Nyong'o and Ejiofor don't receive Oscar nominations for this film. But don't just see it for the performances. See it for the lesson and the conversation it should start.