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Film Review: Twelve Years A Slave

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Twelve Years a Slave feature film

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My family and I recently sat down to watch the award winning film Twelve Years A Slave and we were all left speechless at the end. Usually, when we watch films together, everyone has at least two or three comments, complaints or general observations about the quality of the movie, but not this time. This time the room was completely silent as the final credits began to roll as my niece wept quietly and as I dried tears from the corners of my eyes with my fingertips. Even now as I write this I’m becoming emotional so be prepared to cry a little when you watch this one.

There are no adjectives that easily come to mind for describing this film. All I can say is that you MUST see this movie. Directed by Steve McQueen and written by John Ridley, Twelve Years A Slave is based upon the book of the same title published in 1853. The book was written by Solomon Northrup, the free man around whom the film is centered, and based upon letters that he’d written while enslaved.

Solomon Northrup was born in July of 1808 in Minerva, New York and grew up a free man. He worked as a farmer and was skilled at playing the violin. He was lured south and kidnapped in 1841 while seeking employment and was enslaved for more than a decade. After enduring degrading and violent conditions he was befriended by Samuel Bass, an anti-slavery Canadian carpenter, who helped Northrup in contacting friends and colleagues which led to his being freed in 1853.

Although Solomon Northrup was a free man, the United States during that time was split concerning the implementation of slavery, so much so that the northern part of the country was predominantly in support of abolishing the institution while the majority of the south sought to perpetuate it. Slavery as practiced in the United Sates from the middle of the 15th century to the end of the 19th century is also known as the transatlantic slave trade and was responsible for the forced migration of between 12 - 15 million people from Africa to the Western Hemisphere. The trafficking of Africans by major European countries during this period is sometimes referred to by African scholars as the Maafa or the 'great disaster' in Swahili and is rightly considered a crime against humanity.

The Holy Quran says in Surah Al Hujraat 49:13:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

And the Holy Bible declares in the New Testament Book of Matthew 22:36-40:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" And he (Jesus, peace be upon him) said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."

The transatlantic slave trade has met its end but the suffering of millions should not be forgotten. This film is a powerful, soul-wrenching reminder. As we tread upon this earth we must remember that we are sojourners – visitors – here only for a time and entrusted with one another. We have to remember to care for each other and to leave this place a little better than how we found it, inshaa’Allah (if God permits). The warnings left by the evils of generations past can help us to prevent similar disasters from being repeated; and the hope generated from witnessing the faith and courage of men and women under such abominable duress can spark the flames necessary for warming and lighting our paths . . . inshaa’Allah . . . if God permits.

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