I have seen many movies about the enslavement of people of African Descent but I have never ever ever been as deeply touched as I was while watching this movie. From the beginning of the movie I had a lump in my throat and my head was heavy. Watching the chilling performance of a man who was born free man, educated, loved, respected in his community and very talented. I was moved deeply. He was kidnapped, drugged and sold into slavery. Without a trace, his lovely wife and children had no idea what happened to him. By the end of the movie, I cried deeply. This year, I watched The Butler- A critically acclaimed movie, showing the silent protests and gains made by a butler in the top house in the country and the struggles he and his family endured and how he made an impact in the lives of many through his quiet contribution. I have watched Amistad, Django and many other movies of the struggles of African slaves but nothing has moved me like this movie did. In fact, Django was a fantasy compared to the realistic portrayals in this movie. I kept waiting for this man to make a Django move and beat the crap out of the slave masters, but I knew he had to suffer for the reality of the story to be felt.
This year though, Hollywood saw not just the importance of showing the black struggle but the marketability of our stories in the mainstream audience. It is as though, the time is NOW. We are standing on the shoulders of those that have gone before us and paved the way. We are standing on the backs of our scarred ancestors who took a beating and lost everything so we could gain something. I am planning on seeing Mandela starring Idris Elba and The Winnie Mandela Biopic starring Jennifer Hudson. It should be the norm to see quality and blockbuster movies from all over the world that have leading characters that look more and more like me. Because we have a voice too, we have a rich history, we have stories that so many can relate to. We have been through so many unimaginable atrocities ever since we were enslaved and colonized. Sometimes I cringe at the word “colonized”. It suggests that we were savage beasts that needed to be tamed and civilized like zoo animals.
The enslavement starts with the capturing of the mind. As a race of people for the most part, we are descent, powerful, hardworking, innovative and passionate. But what really happened to us? How did we believe we were less than another human being? How did some of us sell our own brothers and sisters for what we deem as valuables? How could we allow ourselves to be oppressed and suppressed? How long can the mind torture continue?
When you look at most healthy newborns, whether born in a 5 star resort hospital or in the jungles of Africa, they have one thing in common, they come into this world crying. Most are crying because they are cold and separated from the cocoon of the warmth of their mother’s womb, and many cry because they are free from the confines of the damp cave in which they have spent 9 months in. Taking in the “free” oxygen that is available to all humanity and “freely” suckling on their mother’s breast for sustenance. You can’t tell that child, “YOU ARE A SLAVE” while they are nursing on heavenly milk. But wait until that child is about 9 months, you see him/her reaching for anything to stand up and start running. But no sooner was a child who was born under the slave era walking, did that child have shackles on his feet to stop him from going too far. Fed enough food to be strong, but not enough to be intelligent and go to school and contribute fully to society. Always on a leash with so many limitations, his dignity was stripped off, his pride demolished. If he had a woman he fancied and she was just a little bit easy on the eyes enough for the master to want to have his way with her, she was used and abused and tossed back like a piece of rubbish.
I grew up in Nigeria and not in America so I can’t fully understand how deeply this cut in the hearts and minds of the African descendants that were taken against their will and brought to be enslaved for hundreds of years. I can imagine the trickle down effect this has had on the generations that followed. I have witnessed the effects of colonialism on my home country. I see the self-hate within our culture and the breakdown of much more than our languages. But what was done in the slavery era is beyond comprehension. I mean look at what happened in South Africa, It hasn’t been that long that people from that part of the world started tasting real freedom. Like Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Just because it is legal or tolerated does not make it right. It’s easy for some to say, “Oh, get over it!” “There are many successful black people today in modern society whose ancestors experienced unmentionable hardships and who did not grow up with a silver spoon and yet they made it” So much has been said by so many. What does making it really mean? Being a multimillion dollar celebrity that has excelled in sports, entertainment and the like? What about the family structure, the values, the human connection? Money and fame can never bring back what was taken from us. Where does real deep rooted healing start? Do we still have invisible shackles on our feet that keep us from rising to the greatest heights possible? What about the subliminal messages we hear daily that still make us feel enslaved? Who is going to free us from ourselves?
After watching this movie, I felt like I had never felt before. I feel as though I have been born into privilege and a time where I can be anything I want to be. The odds may still be against me, but I am greater than the odds. I was angry with God for so long for allowing these things to happen to us. Sometimes when I cry at night I ask him to whisper to me the reasons he chose for the black race to endure such torture and wickedness all over the world. I haven’t heard him speak back yet. But I know he will.
Kudos to a job well done by the movie producers and the actors involved in 12 Years A Slave. Chiwetel Ejiofor who is of direct Nigerian descent did a fantastic job. He is a living miracle. As a young boy visiting Nigeria from England, he was involved in car accident that claimed the life of his father on our terrible roads (this is a story for another day). It left a permanent scar on his face. He survived for many reasons. He is a talented breakout star that has been honing his craft for a while now and landed this coveted role of a lifetime. I have seen several of his movies but this one is simply incredible. This year on Oscar night, I will be rooting for all the actors and actresses that have come forth via slavery. You see, we all share common ancestors. Some of our great great grand uncles and aunts and even our great great great great grand parents may have been shackled and taken away on that ship in the night.
As a human race when we band together and do the right thing with whatever powers we all have, real miracles happen.
Like another man, Les Brown who I deeply admire always says, “You have greatness within you” Tap into it for the greater good.
Trailer from 12 years a slave