*By now you may have heard.
There’s a powerful new film coming your way that shows slavery up close and personal.
“12 Years A Slave” tells the story of Solomon Northrop, a free black man from upstate New York who is abducted and sold into slavery.
This writer was with EURweb publisher, Lee Bailey, during the screening of the film on the 20th Century Film studios lot; and to say you could “hear a pin drop” at the end of the film – which had many whites in the audience – would be an understatement. I recall hearing rumors about this film: how it was going to show slavery ‘like never before.’ I recall thinking ‘yeah right, we have seen slavery movies every which way ad nauseum.’
Suffice it to say, I was wrong.
The film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (Talk to Me) as Solomon Northrup. Ejifor gave us hints from his early works that he was not here for sport. This Brit has got it going on and he plays the hell out of his role. In this interview, he and fellow Brit, director Steve McQueen, talk to Lee Bailey about how the film got made and its timing. They discuss how it feels to be a black Brit working on a black American film, and what they feel audiences should take with them as they leave the theater after seeing this film.
Lee Bailey: Being a black American who has dealt with racism etc., I guess I am wondering how this kind of film was actually made.
Steve McQueen: I think by having a black president and the mood of the country, I think it was more possible than any other time ever…I think there was support by having Brad Pitt involved as well…But also there was a will and a want to make this story possible I imagine more than ever at any time and we were just lucky to be at the right time to make it, that’s all.
The director says the film took about 4 years to be on screen following the book.
“This story has far more reach than anything else I’ve seen or read lately. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t known about this book. How was it possible? Most Americans I mentioned the book to hadn’t heard of it either. For me it is as important to American history as The Diary of Anne Frank is to European history – a remarkable account of man’s journey into astonishing inhumanity. -Steve McQueen, Director, ’12 Years A Slave”
LB: Not having read the book, was it as dramatic as the film or did you guys take creative liberties?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: That’s the amazing thing, in the adaptation of the book things had to be taken out, you know, pared down a bit…But nothing was added, there were no additives in the process so it very much is Solomon’s story. It’s an incredible story.”
Bailey, admitting that he felt badly because he had no knowledge of the book at all prior to this film, was apparently not alone.
SM: When I found the book, my wife found the book, I was mad at myself, upset with myself because I didn’t understand why I didn’t know this book. I realized that no one I knew knew this book. And, as I’ve said before, it’s just a matter of [the] times. I live in Amsterdam and Anne Frank is a natural hero and an emblem, she’s a world hero and when I read that book it was like reading Anne Frank’s story for the first time…I was astonished. But I am just happy that we found it. Happy that we’re here talking about it and that people know about it and people will go to the movie and read the book.
LB: How do you, as black British cats, do black American stories so well.
CE: It’s telling a story. I’ve always seen this story, specifically set in America, as an American story, but I’ve always seen the kind of international aspects of slavery, the …universal themes that the film is discussing and how this kind of system was imposed throughout the African Diaspora. There is an African Diaspora because of this system. So I’ve always seen slavery and read about it and researched it through my life. I suppose in a wider context so I felt there was something correct in a way. But the fact that there was an international element always struck me as the right approach because…there was a global event.
Chiwetel also notes that 97% of the people who made this film were American.
LB talks of how people left the theater when he screened the film. It was solemn, sniffles here and there, and asks McQueen and Ejiofor what they feel the “take away” from the film should be.
SM: I think, if there’s one word, I think the take away is a thing called love. I mean it in a way that we are here. We survived. We flourish through a sense of love and through a sense of survival. And that we are here. Where we came from; where we are at, and where we’re going. Those are the questions that I hope we provoke through the film.
I recall asking Lee the same thing as we exited the theater; still shaken by what we had just witnessed. He said the film reminds him of how awesome we are as a people; our resilience after what we have encountered.
McQueen says that with the Trayvon Martin incident, and Barack Obama being elected president, he feels that it is time for pause; and we need to take this opportunity to talk and find out where we are headed.
SM: It’s a situation, a movie about a huge historical world event … Now one can only, as an artist, do the best that they can do and tell the truth. Now if people have any problems …that’s fine. But it’s not about looking away.
The director says that if people have problems with the story, that’s fine. But he says the story is not there to reignite baggage; but to set a resolve to determine where we go from here.
Lee brings up the fact that in the present day many white people feel detached from slavery; saying it was 200 years ago and they don’t want to be held responsible for it nor even want to talk about it. To this, Steve McQueen responds:
SM: To understand America we have to understand slavery. That’s just how it is. It’s not about turning one’s back. It’s about whether people want to remain ignorant. It’s unfortunate. I think we did the best that we could do and if people want to see it great, and if they don’t, they don’t. If we don’t face our past, we will never have a future.
As McQueen mentioned earlier, the fact that the awesome Brad Pitt (well, he didn’t say ‘awesome,’ that was added by me) is a part of this film adds an element of support. Pitt not only plays a small, yet significant role in the movie, he is also one of the producers. On Wednesday, October 16, the extremely private actor was on the “Today Show” and spoke with host Ann Curry about the film.
“It’s one of those few films that cuts to the base of our humanity.”
The actor says he “absolutely” plans to show his children the film, but not right now.
“Maybe my eldest I would [show it to] right now,” he said. “I’d rather for the others to get a little bit older and understand the dynamics of the world a little more,” he adds.
Thank you, gentlemen.
Watch this official trailer of ’12 Years A Slave’:
Week #1- (10/18-24)
· New York- Lincoln Plaza, AMC Empire 25, Regal Union Square
· Los Angeles- ArcLight Hollywood, Landmark West L.A., Cinemark/Rave Baldwin Hills
· Chicago- Showcase Icon, AMC River East, Landmark Century Centre, Cinemark Evanston 18
· Wash. D.C.- Landmark Bethesda Row, Regal Gallery Place, Majestic Silver Springs
· Atlanta- AMC Southlake, Regal Atlantic Station, AMC Phipps Plaza, Landmark Mid-town
· Toronto- Varsity
Week #2- (10-25-31)
· Boston- Boston Commons, Kendall Square, Coolidge Corner
· Philadelphia- AMC Neshaminy, Ritz 5, King Of Prussia, Main St.
· Houston- Landmark River Oaks, AMC Willowbrook, (1 more theatre to be announced)
· Detroit- Uptown, Maple, Southfield
· Dallas/Ft. Worth- Angelika Plano, Angelika Dallas, AMC Parks Arlington
· Baltimore- White Marsh, West Nursery, Charles, Egyptian Hanover
Week #3- (11/1-7)
· San Francisco
· Miami/Ft. Lauderdale
· San Diego
· Kansas City
· Las Vegas
· St. Louis
· New Orleans
· Norfolk/Newport News
· Portland, Ore.
· San Antonio
· Baton Rouge
· Boca Raton/West Palm Beach
· Hartford/New Haven
· Ann Arbor
· North Hampton/Springfield