I do not feel I can say I enjoyed the film 12 years a slave as I don’t feel that this is a film to be enjoyed. The film is well made, but it is not meant to be easy to watch or entertaining, it is meant to show a true story in all its horror. There is nothing fun about watching it, its purpose is to show Solomon’s story and give us a visual retelling of what was most likely a common occurrence at the time.
At the beginning of the film Solomon is tricked and kidnapped into slavery. At first this seemed pointless to me, why would the ‘circus men’ go through all of that just to gain a slave? But then I realised that it was because they did not have to purchase Solomon to then try to sell him on to make a profit, they got him for free so they were guaranteed a profit. It was obvious that they knew Solomon was a free slave and so there must have been very little in the way of punishment for slave traders who were caught selling a free person under the pretence that they were a slave. The only reason those men wanted Solomon was so that they could make a profit, they did not think of his family or what they would be selling him into. I imagine this would be a fairly common occurrence at the time, which shows that even though a free man is legally free many slave traders and masters would not care as they still saw all black people as property no matter what their free papers said.
Even before Solomon’s kidnapping the film shows that the idea of a free slave at the time was rare, even though it was legally allowed. During the beginning of the film Solomon and his family are shown going about their daily business, including entering a shop to buy a bag for Solomon’s wife, Anne. During this scene we see a black man enter the shop behind Solomon and look around with a confused expression. The shop owner treats this confused man as if he is just a normal customer, as he should be, but we then see that this confused man is a slave when his master comes into the shop to angrily collect him. This shows that being a free black man at this time would have been strange for many slaves, as I assume they would wonder why they are a slave and the free black man is not. This strengthens the idea that it was easy to kidnap a free black person as for many slaves and white people it would be unheard of in their community for a black person to be anything other than a slave.
The changing of Solomon’s name to Platt shows that slave masters would give their slaves new names to dehumanise them, somewhat like giving a new pet a name. This is also shown by how the name Platt is not a name a white man at the time would have, it is a name a person would make up to give to their dog not to give to their child.
One negative criticism I have of this film is that I feel it would have been a much stronger portrayal of slavery if the film followed the life of female slave. I understand that this film was based on a true account and thus follows the life of the man who wrote this account, but I feel that from watching this film the life of a male slave would have been less complex that of a female slave.
As we saw in this film families were split up when sold, including taking children away from their mothers. During the scenes where Solomon is being sold we can see a slave trader willing to sell a mother and her son but not her daughter, as the daughter would be worth more as she will grow up to be beautiful due to the fact that she looked more ‘white’. The mother obviously new that her daughter was essentially being kept because she would be worth more because for her sexual appeal later in life. This must have been devastating for both mother and child, and yet we only see a small glimpse of this truth in the film. We see that the mother later on is distraught over losing her children and cannot hide her grief no matter what Solomon says to her. Solomon knows his family are safe, this women doesn't know where her children are and whether she will ever see them again.
I feel that the life of a slave like Patsey would have been a much more complex film based on just the glimpses of it we see in the film. The way she is prized for her speed at picking cotton, yet still treated like less than human like the other slaves even though Epps is quite obviously sexually attracted to her. The fact that no one, other than Epps wife, complains about the relationship between Epps and patsey shows that there is more of a story behind this kind of relationship between an unwilling slave and the slave master. Epps treats Patsey as if there is nothing he cannot do to his slaves as they are his property, and I feel if that if the film followed a female slaves life this would be explored more.
This film does show that slavery was different depending on a slaves gender and age, a young man was seen as perfect for working in the fields where as an older male slave is seen as trustworthy enough to have a small amount of power over the other salves. This is shown in the film by an older male slave telling Solomon to get off the porch and an older slave wielding a whip and telling the other salves to keep working in the fields. Younger women were made to tend the house or do less physically demanding work in the fields, and they were more highly priced if they were attractive, which again hints that female slaves were used for more than just their work and that slave traders were well aware of this fact and as a result raised the price of attractive female salves. Older female slaves seem to have been more trusted to do the house work, and as the film shows in some occasions a female slave may become the partner of a white slave owner.
The relationship between Ford and his slaves is interesting in this film as Ford is seen as a kind and lenient slave master and yet when Solomon tells him he is free Ford gets angry because he doesn't want to know about it. I feel as if Ford acts under the idea of plausible deniability, if he doesn't know a slave was a free man he doesn't have to think about it or do anything to help that slave. This contrasts with Epps who would very obviously disregard any problems a slave was having, such as at the end of the film when he was adamant that Solomon was his property and not a free man.
To conclude, I believe that this film is a very complex film and could be analysed in many different ways. It shows the truth of slavery from the events that happened in Solomon’s life, yet I feel like it could have explored the lives of female slaves in more detail. It gave a good account of the different types of slave masters and the various mind sets held by different slaves. The fact that it is from the point of view of Solomon, a slave rather than a white man is interesting and is what makes this film so important. Although the type of person Solomon is does effect the view we get as viewers, the film is still from a slave’s perspective and it does show many aspects of slavery in a compelling and shocking way.