Skip to main content
  1. AXS Entertainment
  2. Arts & Entertainment
  3. TV

’12 Years a Slave,’ ‘Many Rivers to Cross’: African American actuality

See also

The film “12 Years a Slave,” deemed a hit at the box office despite its real life depiction of the slavery experience of an African American, is now a Golden Globe nominee for Best Film (Drama), Best Director (Steve McQueen), Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Drama) Chiwetel Ejiofor, Best Screenplay (John Ridley), Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o), and Best Original Score-Motion Picture (Hans Zimmer); is certainly a film one will never forget.

As one who has seen the film, it is gut-wrenching, tragic, devastating with an anticipative ending. Tears flowed down my face, so engrossed at what was before me on the wide screen. What really got to me was this was one man’s episode…among thousands, millions of black folk who had to endure this immoral crime; some from the beginning of childhood until death, which could last many more years than twelve. There were three particular scenes that really got to me that made me tear up, but you have to see it – it should be a history lesson for all Americans (mature enough) to grasp.

But many will not see this well-put together film, the first I have seen in years that actually portrays what my ancestors went through. Whites may not see the film because of what they did to blacks. Blacks may not want to see the negative images the slaves went through or see their ancestors depicted in such deploring fashion. But one has to know their past to contemplate their future; especially since many of today’s actions in the United States still reveal racist behavior, which many refuse to understand, accept, or falsely believe America is now post-racial.

The true life story is about a man named Solomon Northup, a free black man (actually at the time Negro) from New York who was tricked and kidnapped in 1841. He was put upon a ship in Washington, D.C. which sailed to the slave state of Louisiana, in which he became property to the horrific, vile and evil system of slavery. The Narrative of Solomon Northup and his release from slavery were dated in 1853.

The Los Angeles Times reviewed the film. Check the article below.

Hans Zimmer, an award-winning composer, is up for a Golden Globe award for Best Original Score-Motion Picture for the film. He recently was on PBS’ Tavis Smiley talking with the host about the movie. See the video below.

Many Rivers to Cross

“Many Rivers to Cross,” another outstanding PBS six-part series from literary critic, writer and scholar Henry Louis Gates, shows 500 years of the African American experience beginning with “The Black Atlantic (1500 – 1800);” capturing the slave trade and encounters blacks faced to gain their right to freedom. This segment was important in the way slavery was represented in America; even though slavery existed in other parts of the world, including the continent of Africa. However the major difference was how whites concocted their slavery system – it was based solely on race – in which blacks were dehumanized to the lowest form and considered property. 12 Years a Slave showed many scenes in which this action was displayed.

Here are comments from three online publications on the six-part series –

Everyone (you hope) knows that slavery existed at least as long ago as Ancient Egypt. Many are also aware that black Africans helped the white slave traders who arrived on their shores. But Episode 1 (“The Black Atlantic: 1500-1800”) delves deeper — in Sierra Leone, the Temne people would sell the Loko people, so they didn’t see it as turning against their own — and points out that Europeans invented the idea that skin color determined who was and was not enslavable. As Mr. Gates observes, “the dehumanization of an entire race” takes a while. -- The New York Times

Chapter one, “The Black Atlantic,” races through the 300-year history of the slave trade. Part two covers the 19th century up to the start of the Civil War, and so on, with the final chapter beginning in 1968 — the year Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated — and carrying through the present, and how the election of the first African-American president hasn’t resolved long-simmering racial tensions. -- Variety

Gates intends the series to help teach race in what he considers to be an utterly ineffective school system; he’s quick to cite studies indicating that black history is not being taught well in schools. -- Salon

From the song "Many Rivers to Cross (1969)

Many rivers to cross
But I can't seem to find my way over
Wandering, I am lost
As I travel along the white cliffs of Dover

Many rivers to cross
And it's only my will that keeps me alive
I've been licked, washed up for years
And I merely survive because of my pride

The above lines are the first two phrases sung by reggae star Jimmy Cliff which was a big hit also featured in the Jamaican crime film The Harder They Fall (1972 in which Cliff starred). The phrases can be described in many lives of African Americans. Moviegoers may have also heard the song in the recent 2013 movie “Rush” directed by Ron Howard.

Many Rivers to Cross has been showing on PBS stations since October. The series is highly recommended; check your local times on this valid documentary.

The trailer video of the series is below.


Today's top buzz...

  • Coachella
    The set times you need to know have been announced for Coachella
    Festival Buzz
  • Lamar Odom
    The New York Knicks are giving Lamar Odom another shot in the NBA
    NBA Buzz
  • Porsha Williams
    See why 'Real Housewives of Atlanta' star Porsha Williams posed for this mug shot
    TV News
  • NHL tickets
    If you're looking to catch an NHL playoff game in NYC, don't expect to do so on a budget
    NHL Buzz
  • Transcendence
    Review: ‘Transcendence’ fascinates, but does it rise above the field?
    Movies Buzz
  • Kobe Bryant
    Kobe Bryant has agreed to cooperate with an all-access documentary about his life
    Sports Buzz

User login

Log in
Sign in with your email and password. Or reset your password.
Write for us
Interested in becoming an Examiner and sharing your experience and passion? We're always looking for quality writers. Find out more about and apply today!