Recently I had the privilege of seeing 12 Years A Slave with our church film club.
I say privilege as to say pleasure somehow doesn’t feel right.
What I witnessed was not just a film but a gut wrenching, emotion packed, beautifully shot piece of work that will to my mind be one of the films spoken about in the future as a true classic.
Once the film finished I was left emotionally drained and speechless (not an easy task) and felt unable to leave straight away. I was compelled to sit, to ponder, to reflect.
To be honest I still don’t feel as if I have fully processed everything I saw.
Much was written about the brutally realistic depiction of slavery so I was aware of what I may experience going in. However I wasn’t prepared for what would trouble me most.
The graphic nature of the film is a contributing factor t creating great unease in the viewer. The scene showing Patsy (one of Epps’ slaves) being whipped first by Solomon and then plantation owner Epps was particularly graphic. Patsy’s screams are part of the film that will stay with me for a very long time and it was not easy to sit in comfort watching the flesh tear from her body.
Even more disturbing for me though was the section in which Epps (brilliantly portrayed by Michael Fassbender) stands in front of his slaves and with all authority available to him, reads a Biblical passage using it as a justification for the treatment of his charges.
This disturbed me more than the scenes of physical abuse as it was done with such conviction, such belief, such authority that I was horrified that it made me feel physically sick.
I think the main reason for my reaction was the realisation that this biblical justification is sadly not time bound. Watching 12 Years A Slave left me contemplating not only what have Christians justified away ‘biblically’ in our past but also in our present.
For all the progress we have made as a society we still have a long way to go.
Slavery still exists, albeit in a different form, in today’s trafficking of children and adults across the world. We still have a way to go.
Issues such as equal marriage are dismissed by some who stand declaring their faith openly in government and quoting scripture as infallible. We still have a way to go.
Communities are still divided and treated with suspicion and demonised by their opposites and neighbours. We still have a way to go.
We have progressed but 12 Years A Slave also does not let us off tht lightly. It also shows us that we as human beings are all unfinished, imperfect and ultimately still work in progress.