Jumbled reactions to “12 Years a Slave” movie (1)

24 11 2013

I felt surreal, ill-at-ease, sitting in a comfortable heated theater in cushioned seat, watching one of the most unspeakable crimes against humanity in American historyslave 3.  I’m so glad I didn’t have popcorn and a Coke! Seriously, how do you watch something so vile as the mistreatment of the powerful against the powerless? It is not entertainment, and that is not what I went there for. And it is certainly not what I got. I got education. Heaviness of heart. Confusion as to what can be done, what I should do, if there is anything to be done.

The theology I have often thought, if not written, that there is no difference between what God allows and what He intends — it rings so hollow. So wrong. I cannot stomach the possibility that God allowed slavery and therefore purposed it.

I credit the script with its attempt to represent various characters and viewpoints surrounding the slavery tragedy.

  • the ‘nigger’ ignorant of his rights,carried along by the violence perpetrated against him
  • the educated and talented black, kidnapped and sold, dehumanized into acting and even thinking like an animal just to survive (this is the main character)
  • the wretched Christians (at least nominally) who read scripture to their slaves on Sundays, and used Scripture to bolster their ownership of other humans
  • a negro woman who allowed her white master sexual favors as a ticket into favors and eventually marriage to jump up into the privileged class
  • a white who saw the wrong in slavery, felt helpless to do anything, but did so against odds and at some personal risk
  • whites who trafficked in human flesh for personal profit
  • an owner who felt the injustice of slavery, but went along with the system (to preserve lifestyle?), only to pass responsibility by selling his slave to another white slaver
  • white wives being equal in the abuse, even bringing down greater wrath out of jealousy on slave girls whom their white husbands were screwing

I saw something of the theft of spirit which slavery perpetrated against thousands. In one scene, the slave stood up to his “master’s” deception and was lynched; he barely lived as he clung to life on the rope. But there he hung, slowly dying on the rope (till rescued by a sympathetic owner). What struck me was the other slave men and women walking in the background, going about their chores, unable to intervene for fear of facing the same rope. 1619-1865 is a long time to have the soul and strength sucked out of your people.

Individuals, white, black or otherwise who today say that slavery is over, that racism is a thing of the past, have not given much thought to the question: what are the long-term effects of a people being stepped on and crushed and dehumanized for 250 years? I’ve talked to many whites and even some blacks who say that it is over, quit looking back. And then I walk the streets of urban St Louis and I see the dilapidation, the aimless youth finding belonging in gangs that they can’t find in their fatherless or non-existent families, and I wonder how fair it is to say that we weren’t there when it happened so have no responsibility to do anything about it now.



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