By Darren Johnson
Many of us have been conditioned to avoid Oscar “Best Picture” type movies. For example, the 2012 movie “Argo,” while a well-put-together and solidly acted retelling of a particular incident during the Iran crisis, is not great. It’s the type of film one watches once, enjoys, but never watches again. The same could be said of the previous winners, such as 2011’s “The Artist,” “2010’s “The King’s Speech,” etc. (See my past review of “Argo.”)
The movies that win Best Picture sometimes are based on good acting or directing rather than overall importance, as the voters are largely actors and directors.
Thus, I finally bit on “12 Years a Slave,” regrettably late, when it hit Redbox this past month, and found that this film wasn’t like most Oscar winners. It is the type of film I will watch again.
In fact, the film inspired me to inspect the autobiography of the same name, and then do further research as to both the film and movie (see article here).
While there are websites noting some relatively minor errors of interpretation between the movie and the book, overall, the adaptation is very faithful.
During the watching of the film, I wondered a bit about Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Patsey and I knew had won Best Supporting Actress. Nyong’o did not have a lot of lines, but, after reading the book, I can say that her acting was very true to the book.
We at first see her as idealistic and fancy-free – the best cotton-picker on the plantation, but increasingly abused, including sexually, by master Edwin Epps – and her manner changes over time. She especially faces the ire of Epps’ jealous wife.
The book is fuller and well explains how protagonist Solomon Northup (played in the film by Chiwetel Ejiofor, pictured) was talked into heading from Saratoga, New York, where he was a free man, to Washington, D.C., where slaves were bought and sold not far from the White House up until the Civil War. The book also better explains the various masters Northup had, how the first one, Ford, was actually quite righteous (this wasn’t captured as well in the movie, where Ford instead is seen as weak and wishy-washy), but subsequent masters were brutal.
As Northup was soon shipped to Louisiana, the book also details how, during those 12 years, it was so difficult for him to prove he was a free man, let alone escape. The book really helps one’s understanding as to how totalitarian the South was when it came to the slave issue. It was impossible to even send a letter to the North, even through third-party white sympathizers. Practically everyone – black and white – were informants for the oppressive system.
This may be my favorite book/movie combination; as both complement each other. This is dynamic difficult to find. For example, the book “The Color Purple” is rich with language and written in a poetic dialect, while the movie is more of a visual interpretation. They seem like separate entities. The same can’t be said of “12 Years a Slave.” I will write more about the book here.
As this column is about finding affordable mass media, you can now hit Redbox for this film. As the story is now public domain, you can get the book for free, either in text format or as an audio book, through a simple web search.