My mother came to visit me today and we saw 12 Years a Slave together. For those of you who do not know, it is based off of the true story of Solomon Northup, a free Black man who was kidnapped from our Nation’s capitol and sold into slavery in the south. Solomon is a well-educated man and a talented violinist who has a wife and two children. He is lured into slavery in the south by two men claiming to be members from the circus. They say they want him to perform at a party, but he is tricked and sold into slavery.
This is where the trouble really starts. Northup is sold first to a “Master Ford,” who is relatively benign, although he still owns other human beings, but later he is sold to a cruel “Master Epps.” Solomon endures such hardship, he is verbally, emotionally and physically degraded in some of the worst ways. He has his name stripped from him and his rights denied him. At one point, he is almost hanged, but survives only because he is considered the “valued property,” of a white man.
One of the most sickening scenes in the movie is a scene where a young enslaved woman named Patsy is violently beaten by Epps and Solomon (who was forced to whip her). It was an intense scene. I was so disturbed that I guess my mother could tell and she attempted to cover my eyes like I was 5 years old again. Mind you, I’m 25.
I was uncomfortable the whole time. For lack of better word, I felt like a coward because I couldn’t wait for the movie to end, not because it wasn’t well-done from a theatrical or artistic point, but because it’s so damn heartbreaking to watch. I got up to go to the bathroom at one point and walking to the bathroom, I felt very funny.
I felt funny because I just kept thinking here I am walking to the bathroom freely and this is something I take for granted. 150 years ago, although they didn’t have flushing toilets like today obviously, I wouldn’t have been able to use “The necessary,” at my leisure. I would have been someone else’ property, I would have been working constantly and subject to harsh treatment and held in bondage. Actually 50 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the bathroom freely because of Jim Crow. We weren’t slaves 50 years ago, but I would have had to go around to the back of the theatre (12 Years a Slave wouldn’t even be allowed to be shown) and would have had to go to the “colored bathroom,” or out back.
It just reminded me of the things I take for granted. I thought about my third Great-Grandmother, who was enslaved in South Carolina and I thought about my maternal ancestors who were enslaved in North Carolina and the Eastern Shore of Maryland and I thought about the things that perhaps they might have gone through and it made the movie hit closer to home because I know that as an African-American, my family suffered through that bondage too.
There were also a lot of white people in the movie theatre. The movie is in limited-release right now, it won’t come out for wide release until November 1st, so my mother had to trek 1.5 hours out of her way just to see the movie and I met her halfway. So, we were in a disproportionately white area and there were not as many African-Americans there as I had hoped for. I’m not going to lie, I felt very uncomfortable being one of the few Black people in the theatre…watching a movie about slavery. I got emotional and felt so uncomfortable.
The movie made me want to learn more about my family history and it made me realize how I’m fortunate just to have my freedom and it made me put things in perspective. I complain a lot about the rude things that people say about Black women today (and yes, they are racist things), like the nappy-headed hoes comment. It hurts to hear things like that said about Black women today and part of the reason it hurts is BECAUSE of this history that we have, but at the same time….if we think about the things that Black women went through during slavery and how so many were treated like livestock, abused and such…it’s no wonder that some people TODAY would have hurtful things to say about us, look at the history we come from. Look at the horrible history and the stain of bigotry that slavery has left on this country. But as hurtful as words may be, it can’t compare (obviously) to actually having to live through that hell. To actually having to have all the hate channeled not only as words, but as acts of violence and terror.
After we were watching the movie, I remarked to my mother that the scene with Patsy was horrible, they were horrible to her and she said….”yeah, there were many Patsy’s during that time,” and she was right….there were.
It was just intense, that’s the only way to describe it. Even though I read the book, seeing it on screen was difficult.
And one more thing to say, Reparations… why did they never get any???