Director: Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave has been compared to Schindler’s List – a grim telling of a sad, shameful part of history; I guess that’s why. I don’t see it myself, I think it’s similar to The Passion of The Christ. Granted, 12 Years A Slave is based on an actual account, it really happened, it’s based on the book by free man Solomon Northup, sold to slavery, helpless, beaten, owned for over a decade whereas The Passion is an ugly old fairy tale. But what they share in common is that the filmmaker sacrificed insight, story, emotional involvement in favour of flaunting violence for the sake of creating a visually sumptuous and largely disturbing collection of shock images.
Of course you cannot say the violence in 12 Years A Slave is gratuitous because it happened, and the film rode all the way to the bank, via Oscar glory, due in large part to white guilt. Brad Pitt even appears – as bit-part/producer – as more a symbol of white guilt than for any actual purpose. He loans star-power to this film in much the same way that celebrities raise money and awareness for charities.
McQueen has been heralded as someone who made a deep, personal statement with this film. This is shorthand for saying that a black director made this film. The suggestion, too, is that only a black filmmaker could have made this film. That might be true but the film McQueen has given us is largely impersonal, trading on the obvious atrocities – the idea then is that the film is impossible to criticise. But I couldn’t feel anything from this film, for all the lashings that were served up, the strange fruit hanging there, blowing in the breeze with choking noises ratcheted up high in the mix of the film’s soundtrack, Zimmer’s pretty score accentuating the horror – yes, for all of that I felt nearly-nothing.
Worse than that, for over half of the film’s running time I felt bored. Extremely bored. But you’re probably not supposed to say that. It’s bound to be my fault I didn’t feel a thing, it couldn’t possibly be the filmmaker’s.