Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Review of 12 Years a Slave by Armond White

 "12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre..."
                                                                                               ~ from the review
October 16, 2013
Dud of the Week; 12 Years A Slave
Reviewed for CityArts
By Armond White –

Follow the link to read the entire review.

Meanwhile, here are some excerpts I found very interesting.
    Brutality, violence and misery get confused with history in 12 Years a Slave, British director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of the 1853 American slave narrative by Solomon Northup ... For McQueen, cruelty is the juicy-arty part; it continues the filmmaker’s interest in sado-masochistic display, highlighted in his previous features Hunger and Shame. Brutality is McQueen’s forte...Depicting slavery as a horror show, McQueen has made the most unpleasant American movie since William Friedkin’s1973 The Exorcist. That’s right, 12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre with Hostel, The Human Centipede and the Saw franchise but it is being sold (and mistaken) as part of the recent spate of movies that pretend “a conversation about race.”

    For commercial distributor Fox Searchlight, 12 Years a Slave appears at an opportune moment when film culture–five years into the Obama administration–indulges stories about Black victimization such as Precious, The Help, The Butler, Fruitvale Station and Blue Caprice. (What promoter Harvey Weinstein has called “The Obama Effect.”) This is not part of social or historical enlightenment–the too-knowing race-hustlers behind 12 Years a Slave, screenwriter John Ridley and historical advisor Henry Louis Gates, are not above profiting from the misfortunes of African-American history as part of their own career advancement.

    The egregious inhumanity of 12 Years a Slave (featuring the most mawkish and meaningless fade-out in recent Hollywood history) only serves to perpetuate Hollywood’s disenfranchisement of Black people’s humanity. ... But 12 Years a Slave is ultimate proof that Hollywood’s respect for Black humanity is in absurd, patronizing, Oscar-winning decline.
Wow. I'm surprised this movie hasn't found more traction with the floggers and their peanut galleries. Considering the depiction of slave misery in this movie (assuming the review is accurate), it sound like it's right up their alley....


  1. Reviews posted to Wiki

    Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 96% of critics gave the film "fresh" rating, based on 167 reviews with an average score of 9/10, with the site's consensus stating, "It's far from comfortable viewing, but 12 Years a Slave's unflinchingly brutal look at American slavery is also brilliant -- and quite possibly essential -- cinema."[50] Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 97 (out of 100) based on 45 reviews from mainstream critics, considered to be "universal acclaim". Notably, 33 of Metacritic's reviewers gave the film a score of 100, which (as of this writing) is more than any other film has on the site.[51] CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film an "A" grade.

    There is another review from the New York Film Critics Circle:


    Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” is the year’s most powerful film, an arthouse masterpiece which demands to be seen – and which will punch mainstream audiences in the gut.

    McQueen has a visual artist’s eye and a sure sense of casting. Ejiofor, a terrific British actor, brings a grim reality to Northrup, an educated man who can’t quite believe that he has been banished to this circle of hell. His face radiates resentment, confusion, rage – even when he is trying to mask his feelings, just to survive.

    Fassbender is superb playing a man of unconscionable cruelty, whose appetite for inflicting discomfort is as inhuman as the things he does. Nyong’o, as the benighted Patsey, gives a performances that’s like an open wound, even before she suffers the nastiest whipping the film has to offer.

    “12 Years a Slave” is not for the faint of heart – yet it is an important, engrossing and upsetting film. It’s hard to imagine one that will hit you harder.

    Released just in time for the awards season:Rewards Received/Pending thus far:

    Britannia Awards:
    British Artist of the year - Won (Benedict Cumberbatch)

    Gotham Awards:
    Best Feature (Pending)
    Best Actor - Chiwetel Ejiofor (pending)
    Best Breakthrough Actor - Lupita Nyong'o (Pending)

    Hollywood Film Awards:
    Beakthrough Directing - Steve McQueen (Won)
    New Hollywood Award - Lupita Nyong'o (won)

    Mill Valley Film Festival:
    Overall Audience Favorite (Won)
    MVFF Award (Won)

    Toronto International Film Festival:
    People's Choice Award (Won)

    Given that the overwhelming majority of people have given "12 Years a Slave" rave reviews, I wondered what Armond White is getting at? Then I looked him up. I am wondering why, of all the reviews posted, that this is the one that came to your attention. Unless said person was/is literally looking for such reviews.


  3. So, Connie, Have you ever read Northup's narrative?

  4. CC-
    "I'm surprised this movie hasn't found more traction with the floggers and their peanut galleries."

    Maybe it's because the "true" story has some problems in the truth department...

  5. No, Corey, I haven't.

    Rob, I wasn't looking for reviews of this movie, or any movie. It is a blip that showed up on my radar screen a couple of times recently -- I saw a post title about it at Levin's flog, and I had seen but not read a post about it on Facebook. With rare exceptions, I'm basically not interested in what comes out of the film industry in this country, including this film. I was surfing for indie publishing info when I came across blog post about this movie. Not sure why Google brought up that site on a search about on indie publishing. In any case, there were a number of links, just bare links with no preview or intro to what they were about, so I clicked the last one on the list.

    It took me to this review, which isn't very long, so I skimmed it. It surprised me because, given the times we live in, I wasn't expecting anything critical of the movie, and certainly not like this. In fact, I'm surprised anybody could write such a review, get it published, and remain employed. This is the sort of movie one is not allowed to disagree with or be critical of -- hence all the rave reviews -- so I decided to share Mr. White's abberation.

    I don't know who Mr. White is and I didn't look him up until your comment. Basically, I'm no more interested in film critics than I am films. This was just something unexpected I came across, and I decided to share it.

  6. Oh, Border Ruffian, I can't imagine that being a problem for floggers and floggerettes....

  7. I'd be willing to bet that the book is a whole lot better than the film.

  8. Here are the slaves of Edwin Epps according to the 1850 Census-


    Note that there is no slave over the age of 40.


    Here are a few of the Epps slaves as described in the book-

    "Abram was tall, standing a full head above any common man. He was sixty years of age, and was born in Tennessee. Twenty years ago, he was purchased by a trader, carried into South Carolina, and sold to James Buford, of Williamsburgh county, in that State....

    Wiley is forty-eight. He was born on the estate of William Tassle, and for many years took charge of that gentleman's ferry over the Big Black River, in South Carolina.

    Phebe was a slave of Buford, Tassle's neighbor, and having married Wiley, he bought the latter, at her instigation. Buford was a kind master, sheriff of the county, and in those days a man of wealth.

    ....[Buford] became involved in debt, and unable to bear up against his failing fortunes, was compelled to sell these, and others of his slaves. In a chain gang they had been driven from beyond the Mississippi to the plantation of Archy B. Williams. Edwin Epps, who, for a long while had been his driver and overseer,...accepted them in payment of his wages.

    Twelve Years A Slave, pages 185-186

    Abram and Wiley appear to be fictional characters - making their every appearance in the book fictional as well.

    I was unable to find either James Buford or William Tassle in census records. I did find an Archibald P. Williams.

    Twelve Years is a mix of truth and fiction.

  9. The movie is complete garbage. It is characterized by lifeless and uninspired acting, a distorted and fraudulent plot, poor character development, stale dialogue, shallow stereotypes, and a frivolously transparent pathos. Again, the movie is garbage with absolutely no redeeming features.

  10. Thank you for that inaccurate review.

    Rotten Tomatoes:

    Critic Rating: 96% "Certified Fresh", 171 Reviews
    Audience Rating: 94%, 27,466 Ratings.

    Prepare for the retort full of ad hominem insults.

  11. Austin,

    I doubt you have seen the movie let alone read the narrative.

  12. The basic story is probably true-

    Solomon Northrup was kidnapped, sold into slavery and freed after being a slave for 12 years. And some of the details of those 12 years may be true - but some are not.

    Now, what's the chance that Simpson, Levin, Hall, Meyer, or Baker or any of the rest of that gang will inform the public of the inaccuracies of the book and film?

    Not a dog's chance...

  13. The film is intended to stir up bitterness and resentment, more than anything else.


  14. James, sure it is to stir up emotions and such over a topic that has never been fully rectified by this country.

  15. Corey... that slavery has never been fully rectified by this country is an opinion, open to disagreement. And it's my opinion that James' specific description, "to stir up bitterness and resentment" is much more accurate than your use of the generic term, "emotions and such."

    Currently, there is a revival of the interest in slavery because of the sesquicentennial, and a revival of obsession with race/racism because of the first black president.

  16. Historically, rectification of slavery did not occur. The opinion, is whether or not rectification is appropriate now.

    Have you seen the film, Connie?

    This "revival" as you call it, has been going on since the 1970's Connie. It became more mainstream, outside of academia, in the 90's. You are now seeing trickle down, decades after the fact, in the public domain (including public ed. standards). It will continue to exist until the next swing in academic study occurs.

  17. rec·ti·fy
    verb (used with object), rec·ti·fied, rec·ti·fy·ing.
    1. to make, put, or set right; remedy; correct:

    If slavery needed to be remedied or corrected, that was accomplished by ending it.

    If by rectify, you mean pay reparations, can't be done; none of the people who were slaves are alive now to pay reparations to. Which is another reason this movie was intended to stir up bitterness and resentment.

    The interest in slavery that occurred because of the civil rights movement started tapering off in the 1970s. It has revived when I noted it did for the reasons I identified.

    No, I haven't seen the movie; or Django Unchained, or other movies designed to stir up bitterness and resentment, or hatred and demonization.

  18. In your propensity to argue semantics you make a rather asinine argument that slavery is rectified simply by ending it. What of compensation? What of the social order disruption that followed? And what of the laws and codes re-implemented to re-establish that social order? No, rectification has not happened.

    I also never said that reparations are something that needed to happen today, and you are making an incredible stretch to argue that the move stirs up resentment in order to give reparations.

    Do you have documentation to prove your arguments?

    How exactly do you know their design/message if you have not seen the movie?

  19. It would be very refreshing to see Hollywood produce a movie entitled "Twelve Years A New England Slave-Trader". That movie could then focus exclusively on the myriad cruelties and severe human rights abuses perpetrated by Northerners. The most profound and emotional scenes would include dramatic and graphic depictions of diseased, starved, emaciated, half-dead slaves being hurled overboard and eaten alive by sharks; of pregnant women wailing in unthinkable agony as they tried to give birth in shackles; and of the avaricious traders greedily counting profits. It would definitely be a better film than "Twelve Years A Slave" which, as I said, just a garbage movie.


  20. The chaos into which slaves were freed, Rob, was the work of the feds and the north.

    The subject was slavery. What you're calling the reestablishment of social order after the war was not slavery.

    My comment about reparations had nothing to do with the movie, but with your "rectifying" claims.

    I don't need to prove my arguments. They are simply my opinion.

    Where in this thread as anyone mentioned "design/message"? James said the film is intended to stir up bitterness and resentment. That's his opinion and I happen to agree with it -- although, more than anything, the movie is probably intended to make McQueen and the studios involved a lot of money.


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