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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.

How to change the world

Let’s face it, one of the big reasons people create is to make the world a different place. We want our viewpoint on the way the world should work to be listened to and we want to influence nations for the better (at least I definitely do) and while this can seem like a daunting task; the world is a pretty big place. Here’s some things I’ve learnt on how the world is changed.

Now I bet you’ve heard the idea of you want to change the world you have to start with yourself and while this idea is mostly true. In terms of creating, often what’s in the core of us comes out, so it does make sense but it’s not entirely all about being good intentioned.

Recently I’ve been rewatching the TV series the 4400 and in this series a whole bunch of people are abducted from varying times and then all brought back at once with an extra funky super power each. The first one of these to realise what his super powers is accidentally kills someone with it when he gets angry. The next one gets killed by a bunch of thugs for trying to clean up a park in a small neighbourhood.

Now you’d think these were changes for the bad but the series goes on to show that both of these actually led to positive results. In the first case the guy who was killed has been running a billion dollar fraud scam thingy and him dieing saves the government those billions. In the second case the community around the small park all see that they’ve let their own neighbourhood go to ruin and band together to sort it out again.

In short each one of the actions creates ripples of good, spreading out from the original action. Now, of course we can’t go around killing people but we can do things like clean up stuff and smile at people as we pass them, which is a bit more like changing ourselves but an action based version of it.

And I can guess at this point that you’re probably thinking, how on earth is smiling at someone going to change the whole world (or making that small painting or writing that poem etc) but that’s where the ripple effect idea becomes amazing. No one every smiles just once or creates just one painting. We smile to people all the time and we create in lots of ways. Also the people who’s days are brightened by our smile might then go say something positive to one of their employees which might give them the confidence to try that something they’ve always wanted to but thought might be too difficult and so on. Once a ripple starts there’s no way of knowing how far it gets and how many lives it effects on the way.

Think of an empty swimming pool and yourself standing by the side. It’s perfectly calm and then you drop a pebble into it (that poem you wrote) and another when you smiled at someone. There’s now some movement. You start dropping an assortment of differing sized rocks and pebbles into the swimming pool, the bigger ones to represent the things that had a bigger impact on the people around you.

Then one of the people you’ve effected comes and joins you, also flinging their own pebbles and rocks in and then someone they’ve effected comes and joins in and another of your own and this keeps happening until the pool is surrounded by people chucking stuff in. It’s not going to be still anymore. It’s going to be loud and chaotic and, chances are, the water is going to spill over and get people wet, because all the rocks and pebbles are going to fill up the space the water was in before, and the water will overflow and start running over the floor. On top of that, even if all the rocks were removed the water would never quite be able to go back the way it was. It’s changed and can’t ever go back.

A single person may only be able to make ripples, but they can change the world, one ripple effect at a time.