By Brenda Robinson
Sometimes inspiration can be found in unexpected places. And, one of those places was within the movie, “12 Years a Slave,” directed by Steve McQueen. This 45-year-old, British born black man directed the movie that won the 2014 Oscar for best movie. Further, the movie screenwriter was 49-year-old John Ridley, an African American who won the 2014 Oscar for best adapted screenwriter. In addition, 31-year-old Lupita Nyong’o, a black Kenyan actress, won the 2014 Oscar for best actress in a supporting role. Thus, to witness that kind of “Black Power” in one arena is good news and show ’nuf inspirational.
Without a doubt, the movie was disturbing. The cruelty suffered by the slaves was unbearable for some viewers. Some movie observers commented they would not again see the movie due to the horrific mistreatment and down right inhumane cruelty the slaves received from the slavemasters and their counterparts. And, the movie was based on a true story which made black viewers weep, as these realistic portrayals showed how the “physical chains” of slavery transferred to “mental chains” which continue to keep us in bondage.
The movie, timeline 1841 to 1853, depicted how Solomon Northup, a free black man in upstate New York, was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The story graphically showed the beatings, torture, verbal abuse, neglect, disrespect, threats and near-death experiences Solomon encountered. As if the aforementioned hardships were not enough, the slave master demanded Solomon brutally beat Patsy (the slave owners unwilling mistress) or Solomon and other slaves would be killed. Other slaves, of course, were subject to the same treatment, including murder. Black male slaves helplessly watched black female slaves being raped by white slavemasters and other white males in authority. Solomon fought to retain his dignity which was the only quality he could, from within, protect.
Despite the heartbreaking storyline, the movie was inspirational because it showed black people can work together and produce and create quality. This quality can occur in movies, other entertainment areas, businesses, education, our neighborhoods, churches, anywhere, anytime. However, we must remove the “mental chains,” which means dispelling the myths and stereotypes that we are incapable of race loyalty, unable to work together, and not as smart as white people. We must adopt the “yes I can attitude” that was so apparent in this movie, as some slaves held on to their dignity.
Perhaps, Ridley and McQueen are not real fond of each other. The press reported Ridley and McQueen were at odds with each other because Ridley, in his acceptance speech, failed to thank McQueen for his directorship. Both men denied such a problem. In addition, McQueen, in his acceptance speech, did not thank Ridley for his screenwriting. Ridley added, during a post Oscar interview, “I am here because of McQueen and how he puts things together.” Reportedly, McQueen gave a half-hearted applause when Ridley accepted his award. If there is a rift between these two men, there still is a lesson learned.
We must recognize two black men were able to write and direct a first class movie. The black actors and actresses gave superb performances, specifically Nyongo’s character. Producing quality within a business or service is not dependent upon “liking one another.” While getting along makes goal attainment easier, it is not a prerequisite for success. Furthermore, Ridley and McQueen reinforced just how talented black people are.
As we move into spring and rid ourselves of the blistery winter, let us pledge to rid ourselves of the “mental chains” that can so easily beset us. Solomon Northup was physically enslaved for 12 years. We’ve been in “mental chains” for a lot longer. Isn’t it past time to escape?