12 Years A Slave Has Me Undone

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

I love this old book cover.
I love this old book cover.
This past weekend I went to see 12 Years A Slave with my cousin. It wasn’t a film I was excited to see, it was more of a compulsion. When Hollywood takes on the Black experience, I feel it is my duty to support the effort. I also was intrigued by the very true story of a free Black man tricked and kidnapped into slavery who manages to survive 12 years of inhuman bondage and still return home to his family.

Dear readers, can I just say, that I have never experienced a movie like this one. I have never been so moved by actors on a screen. I have never felt so intimately involved with the action going on in a film. My hat goes off to the filmmakers who were able to draw the audience so deeply into the events of the movie, that the entire theater was filled with the sounds of people sniffling and sobbing at the injustice occurring before our very eyes. And it didn’t stop there. I cried for the rest of the evening, even after the credits rolled. I woke el esposo and myself up in the middle of the night, sobbing in my sleep. Sunday morning in church, I broke down in the middle of a hymn because the cruelty and injustice depicted in the movie were just too much for my soul to bear. Too much because this wasn’t just a movie, this was the story of my people.

I could probably write 10 different blog posts/essays about my thoughts and reactions to the film, but rather than do that, I decided to simply make a list of my thoughts, ideas and impressions for you to reflect on. Here goes:

1. I was really surprised by the freedom and wealth Solomon Northrop experienced in his life in Ithaca, New York before his kidnapping. It makes me realize that the Black experience in America is so much more diverse than the popular narrative of southern plantation slave.

2. While the number of evil Southern White folks depicted in the film were many, it is important to note that the filmmakers did not use broad brush strokes to suggest that all White people were the enemy. The innocent and the guilty came in all colors and the complexity within the relationships between Black and White was well documented.

3. While I really felt for Solomon Northrup and his plight to get back to his family, my heart was torn apart by all of the female characters in the film. I will forever be haunted by Patsy’s cries and I will never forget the desperation in the voice of a woman who begs a slave trader not to separate her from her children. As a Black woman, as a mother, those stories upended my world.

4. I could not smile for 48 hours after seeing that film, yet I would see it again. And I think every single person who calls the United States their home should see this film. It is the best piece of cinema yet that humanizes this institution that effectively dehumanized our country. For people who say they don’t want to witness the horrors of slavery, I say, you didn’t have to live through it, at least bear witness to it, so that as a nation we can honestly atone for those sins.

5. Last but not least. I really want to know what happened to Patsy.

There, those are my thoughts for now. Has anyone else seen the movie? What did you think? What were your reactions? Like me, do you wish you had a support group to talk about it? Well, let’s talk here. I’m so listening.


P.S. FYI, my publisher, Atria books, just re-issued a new version of the book 12 Years a Slave with a foreword by one of my favorite authors, Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I just ordered a copy from my local Indie Bookstore and it’s ready for pick-up. Can’t wait!

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9 Thoughts to “12 Years A Slave Has Me Undone”

  1. pilotom

    I’m a white Cuban female with no kids and I’m still thinking about this movie days after seeing it. Eliza being torn from her kids and Patsy’s horrific abuse haunt me. I found your site because I was actually trying to find information about what happened to the real Patsy. At the end of the movie I found myself wishing that Solomon had killed Patsy since I think that might have been more merciful than the fate that awaited her in that plantation. I also keep thinking about the fate that probably awaited Eliza’s daughter who probably was “made” into a Patsy herself. It boggles the mind how sick the culture was in the South during this time.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Thanks for joining the conversation. Did you ever find out what happened to Patsy? Please share if so. And yes, sick is probably the best way to describe the White southern mindset at the time. And my mind is totally boggled too.

  2. Cousin Monica

    I just saw this movie today. It was very powerful. I wept. I especially wept for Patsy. It brought to light the ambivalent nature in which we (Black women) were (are) so loved, hated, and feared. The mysteriousness of Black women still mesmerizes people today.

    On another note, I thought Brad Pitt’s role in the movie (and as the producer) was quite interesting and strategic…It was strategic in the sense that his role in the movie and his role as a producer symbolizes something that extends beyond this movie. Thoughts???

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Hi Cousin Monica!
      I agree that if Brad Pitt hadn’t thrown his muscle and pretty face behind this movie, we wouldn’t be talking about it today. I applaud his championing this film and I’ll kick anyone in the kneecaps who wants to say otherwise about it.

  3. Lisa

    I, too, saw and am overwhelmed by the film. I especially appreciated the director’s, Steve MaQueen, choice to stay with the excruciating moments to force the viewer to consider the severity of the experience. I’m haunted by the cries of Eliza for her children. I couldn’t wait to get home and put my hands on my own.

    I’m also with you in regards to my sense of duty in actually going to see this film. No, I wasn’t looking forward to it, just as I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Fruitvale Station, but feel it’s my responsibility to bear witness to the injustices that too infrequently make it to the movie screen.

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      Thanks for making me feel like I’m not the only one. This movie really shook my worldview to the core. And, yes, I hugged all three of my children extra hard when I made it home.

  4. I also want to urge everyone to go see it. I especially agree with your points 2, 3, and 5. As a woman and mother, I felt closest to those characters.

    I also cried during the film (and heard the sniffles of those around me), but reading your blog post has made me face an uncomfortable truth. Although I would say I was deeply affected by the movie, those emotions did not stay with me as long after I left the theatre. Based on the Facebook posts I’ve been seeing, I’ve noticed what seems to be a pattern: white people (like me) are very moved by it, but black folks just can’t stop thinking about it. I’m wondering if this shows some failure of empathy on my part, or if it’s just the reality that because I’m not wondering what exactly happened to my own ancestors, I don’t feel as shattered by the story. I don’t think there is any one “right” amount of tears, but it’s a reminder to me that even if we share many political opinions, our experiences are still profoundly shaped by our and our families’ experiences of race in this country.

    That said, I hope this film will slightly narrow the gulf in our understanding of chattle slavery. When I’ve gone to historic homes in the Philadelphia area, I usually ask the tour guide “was there slavery here?” even if I know the answer. I’ve been amazed at how much ignorance exists, with one (at Longwood gardens) even saying, “I guess it was OK if they were nice to them.” One of the things the film shows is that even the less brutal slave holders who had “nice” moments were upholding a brutal, inhumane system that can never be justified. As you say, we can never atone for those sins if we don’t know what actually happened. (I”d go see the film again if you want company.)

  5. Greg Thrasher

    Awesome film it provided visuals of why Black are today in part because of the wounds caused by white racism and the pathology of that disease .

    The film has super negroes, uncle toms , quitters.

    Great Film !!

    1. Ms. Meltingpot

      I think I might even see it again. There was so much to take in, I think I cried through so much of it. And I’m about to start the book.

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