12years a slave: The two sides of Christianity
“Twelveyears a slave” is a 2013 drama film which was adapted from the 1853slave narrative memoir composed by Solomon Northup. The major themein the movie is slavery. Solomon Northup successfully uses the moviecharacters to depict some of the sufferings that Black people enduredduring his era. Before his kidnap, Solomon Northup was a free man andwas living with his wife and two children in New York. Two White menhoodwinked him that they would offer him employment. However, he iscaptured and branded a runaway slave and is forced to work in bigplantation alongside other slaves. The movie is full of all forms ofviolence including rape and murder. One of the intended messages thatthe film producer wanted to depict was the influence of Christianityin the quest for freedom against slavery. Using the character Bass(Brad Pit), he aims to show how Christianity could have aided inabolishing slavery. However, there are two kinds of Christianity inthe film. One is bad, and the other one is good. The unintendedmessage that Solomon Northup depicts is that Christianity could aswell propelled slavery.
Inthe film, Solomon Northup worked on white man’s plantations inLouisiana for twelve years before his full release. Chiwetel Ejioforacting as Solomon Northup is deceived by white slave dealers and issold to work on a plantation. He is quickly branded a runaway slaveand is forced to adopt a new name, "Platt." Since he doesnot agree to their terms, tension develops between him and hismasters. He alongside other slaves experiences a lot of sufferings.Women such as Patsey are forced to work in plantation and are oftensexually and physically abused. Others like Eliza have to endure thepain of losing their children to slavery. Once in a while, they areforced to hear their master`s sermons. The slave masters useChristianity to justify their inhuman deeds. Towards the end, anothercharacter by the name Bass is introduced, and he is unsettled by thebrutal way that Epps and other whites are mistreating the slaves. Heopenly expresses his opposition to slavery. Solomon Northup iseventually restored to his family and his freedom returned.
Why12 years a slave is a popular film
“Twelveyears a slave” was directed by Steve McQueen and written by JohnRidley. There are stars featured in the film included ChiwetelEjiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong`o as Patsey. 12 years aslave can be branded a popular film because it attained globalattention was viewed by people all over the world. The film earned$187.7 million and much of this earnings were from countries outsidethe United States. Apart from the revenue, it also received severalawards. For example, it earned three Academy awards including that ofthe Best Picture and the Golden Globe award for best drama. Theleading actor Ejiofor was given the best actor award. Additionally,the film can be categorized as a popular movie because it provides ahistorical account about racial extremism. This is a contemporarytopic because even though racism was abolished several years back,there are still some elements of it in the modern society. A goodexample of racial extremism is seen in previous cases of massshooting at a church in South Carolina, rise of groups such as theKKK clan among others.
Whenexamining a movies ideology, one moves from the superficial meaningof the film which is usually the intended message and performs acritical analysis to identify the unintended meaning (Wood, 2002). Insome cases, as is seen in “12 Years a Slave”, the unintendedmessage can contradict the some of the themes in the movie. 12 yearsa slave is centralized along the theme of slavery. The producer usesthis to show the nature of extreme violence that was rampant in theNorth. Additionally, he emphasizes on the authority of the slaveowners and how they terrorized black people. They used whips,Shackles, and Paddles on their subjects. In the midst of all these,Christianity played a critical role throughout the movie. Theunintended message that Solomon Northup depicts is that Christianitycould as well propelled slavery
Inthe film, both slaves and slaveholders were Christians. At some pointin the movie, Solomon Northup talks about the fateful visit by Bassand how this spearheaded the fight against racism from a religiouspoint of view. According to Bass, slavery was wrong and immoral. Heargues that people were created equally and as a result, it isunethical for others to see themselves superior to others based ontheir skin color. The truth of the matter is, however, that by thistime the audience had already had a bad interpretation ofChristianity. They associated the religion with hypocrisy, and itwould be very difficult for Solomon Northup to convince themotherwise. By including characters such as Epps, the director hadalready passed the unintended message that Christianity was partly tobe blamed for the use of extreme violence during the slavery era.
Theunexpected or contradicting message of how Christianity facilitatedslavery is seen in the first scenes of the movie. Solomon Northupnarrates on how he was a free man who lived a very happy andcomfortable life with his family and two daughters. The slaveholdersused Christianity to discourage their subjects from protesting orrebelling against their autocracies. A good example showing how slaveowners used Christianity to blind their victims is seen wherebySolomon and other slaves bury Uncle Abe. In this episode the rest ofthe slaves on the plantation gather and sing a slave spiritual song“Roll Jordan Roll". Since Christian teachings emphasize thatpeople should trust in God and pray hoping that their prayers will beanswered, none of the slaves dares to confront their masters at thistime because of fear. Instead, most of the slaves especially womenresort to prayers hoping that everything will turn out well one day.
Twoversions of Christianity are also well brought out by how slavemasters used the Bible to justify their actions. The slave masterswere vicious tyrants. One slave master by the name Ford reads theBible to his subjects in a makeshift Sunday service. Normally, itwould have been expected that people of such status who are familiarwith God`s teaching would show the utmost respect for human life.Instead, he is a willing part of the whole slavery institution. Herecklessly assigns violent employees to supervise his slaves knowingvery well that they will be humiliated and tortured. His way of lifecontradicts Biblical teachings stating that people should love theirneighbors as themselves and do well to others. Even when Bass appearslater and tries to change this ideology, it is evident that majorityof the slaves have been fed up with religion and are thus likely tobe converted to Christianity. Those who are already Christians areseen by their counterparts as hypocrites because they fail to seethat the same people who are preaching to them are the ones who willorder for their death the following day.
Thetwo version of Christianity in the movie “12 Years a Slave” arealso shown through the major character Edwin Epps. His traitscontradict that of Bass in that he is a firm believer of whitesupremacy. He views his slaves as animals who do not have emotions.In one scene, he uses the Bible as justification for punishing hisslaves. He often whips them and goes to the extent of punishing themafter infestation of his crops. According to him, poor crop yield isbecause God is punishing him because of the inequity of his slaves.If Mr. Bass were a noble Christian, it would have been expected thathe take responsibility for his poor farming skills and not to divertthe blame on other people who had nothing to do with his misfortune.
Thewhole aspect of hardship that slaves have to endure shows absence ofChristianity qualities in Slave masters. Solomon Northup successfullyallows the viewers to understand the kind of life and labor thatslaves faced on the plantations of Louisiana. He depicts theexhaustion, monotony, and fear that each slave had to struggle withboth psychologically and physically. The slaves are woken up byhorns, and they have to prepare their master`s breakfast, fill aguard with water and hurry to the field. This becomes the order ofthe day. The whole atmosphere in of the film is that of despair andhope, and one can only try to pursue his freedom by running away.However, most of the slaves are afraid because if there are caughttrying to escape, the consequences are even harsher.
Lastly,although the masters are trying to depict themselves as religious menand women, they are just hypocrites who enjoy the sufferings of otherpeople. Even though towards the end Solomon Northup tries to connectthe abolishment of slavery with Christianity, its other side is verywell depicted through one of the female character Patsey. Solomon hadmet the twenty-three-year-old slave woman after he was captured. Theviewers are told that Patsey was the victim of an envious mistressand lustful master. She was, therefore, caught between sexual andphysical abuse of her master and the wrath of the wife. As a result,she lived all her life in fear and torment.
SolomonNorthup, thus, made clear that even with the widespread Christianityblack women were physically and sexually assaulted. Additionally,they were also separated from their families. Eliza, for instance,was overwhelmed with grief when a white master purchased her childrento slavery under her watch. The whole act of a white man returningagain to preach about freedom because Christianity does not allow it,therefore, seemed ironical and hypocritical to Black people.Contradictory to what Solomon Northup might have aimed to depict, itcan be said that hostilities catalyzed the slave revolution.
Itis, therefore, true that one of the ways of analyzing and determiningthe intended and intended messages in any film is through criticalexamination of the ideological concepts that the producer orfilmmaker wanted to illustrated. In “12 Years a Slave” there areseveral dominant themes such as slavery, the plight of women,positive roe of Christianity in the abolishment of slave trade anduse of the violence. The major casts such as Bass, Patsey and Eppseffectively bring out the themes and the audience can clear identifythe intended message that was supposed to be passed by the film.However, after a critical review, it is also evident that even thoughthe producer wanted to highlight how Christianity influenced blackfreedom, to an extent, he also contradicts himself by depicting thesame religion as one of the major catalyst for white supremacy andslavery.
Inconclusion, it is clear that examining the movie’s key ideologicalconcepts is a useful tool when identifying the intended andunintended messages. Although the unintended messages may contradictthe message which the producer wanted to relay, the contradictiontends to reveal a lot about the film’s ideology. In “12 Years aSlave”, the intended message is in regards to slavery and howmajority of blacks suffered at the hands of their masters. The wholeconcept of slavery is closely intertwined to Christianity becauseeven though at the start there are some elements of hypocrisy amongChristians, the filmmaker uses another main character, Bass to showthat genuine Christians were against the practice. Consequently, theunintended message that Solomon Northup depict is that Christianitycould as well propelled slavery during his era. Using other maincharacters such as Edwin Epps, the filmmakers successfully depictsthe other side of Christianity that allowed slavery to go on yetslaves continued to suffer.
McQueen,S., Ridley, J., Pitt, B., Gardner, D., Kleiner, J., Pohlad, W.,Milchan, A., Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Inc.,(2014). 12Years a Slave.
Wood,R. (2002). Party Time or Can Hardly Wait for That American Pie:Hollywood High School Movies of the 90s. Cineaction,2.