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12 Years a Slave: A Review and a Thought on the Ripple Effect

I know it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a film as I chose to give the books I read a slightly higher priority, but this film is one I want people to know about.

This is based on a true story of a man who was free, sold into slavery, and then spent 12 years working for different slave owners of varying tempers and opinions. The original man the story was about wrote his account and the film is based on that book, something I’d also really like to read.

With all films like this you expect to shed a few tears and I can say I definitely did, although not until the end. I also found several points hard to watch. The makers didn’t always hold back on the horrific things the slave owners did to their slaves.

Acting wise I was very impressed. Michael Fassbender did a fantastic job in what must have been a tough role to play as the worst of the slave owners, and Chiwetel Ejiofor who played Solomon himself had me very moved by his performance (I knew him best as Peter in Love Actually before this). I knew Brad Pitt was going to be in it from the trailor and wasn’t impressed but equally not dissapointed with his performance. The surprise actor was Benedict Cumberbatch and his character presented one of the most interesting points of the plot for me.

While most slave owners really seemed to believe black people were something inferior and needed owning or it was their God given right etc. Cumberbatch played the part of an owner who evidently knew the slave trade was cruel and on a couple of occasions acts to try and make it less cruel. He still kept silent and bought slaves, as well as using them for work, but he was relatively kind to them and listened when they spoke. I think this is the hardest ground to stand on with something so controversial.

The people who genuinly believed they were better, while totally deluded, they were at least acting in line with their beliefs. But knowing it’s wrong and not doing much about it but the odd act of kindness here and there, is that actually going along with the wrong, because your actions don’t speak out otherwise. I find myself wondering if these people are actually the ones to be blamed for not stopping the slave trade sooner. Because if all of them had fought their fears and spoken up, who knows how much sooner people like Solomon would have been freed?

In the end it is one of these, in between, sort of men who saves Solomon. Just one voice spoke up and it saved him, which meant he could go home to his family, and then write his book, and then let others know about it all, and then help build momentum to stop the slave trade for good. One single voice started a ripple of events that helped change so many more lives. I want to write that again for emphasis. One Single Voice started a ripple of events that helped change the lives of so many more.

The next time I find myself faced with something and I’m afraid to speak up, I hope I remember this true story and I say what should be said, because one voice can sometimes turn an entire tide.