Steve McQueen is a fantastic director. This true life story of slavery, kidnapping, torture and the law is one of the more important films to come along in years.
What I couldn’t figure out, until I was halfway through the film, was critic Armond White’s response to it, from several months ago.
“As with his fine-arts background, McQueen’s films resemble museum installations: the stories are always abstracted into a series of shocking, unsettling events.”
But slavery WAS a series of shocking, unsettling events. This odd review, seemingly out of left field, seems to only make sense if Armond White just cannot bare to look at the plight of someone like himself, a black man, in complete dehumanization and racist powerlessness.
I think that his review is unfair to the film.
This is not a sugar coated slavery story. This is not a feel good revenge story, as with Django Unchained (also despised by Armond White, for completely different reasons). This is an historical retelling straight from the man’s own book. As such, we need to pay attention and accept what he’s said.
I believe McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley, also a black man, have done everything they could to remain faithful to the original story and to show it in honest terms. The lingering camera and the almost complete lack of background music give dimension to the world. The southern character of the plantations feels authentic.
It becomes apparent very quickly, as we float through this “war on terror” myth today, that much of the real America was founded on institutionalized terrorism. The terror employed against Africans and natives far surpasses anything that individual terrorists today can muster. The white man’s racist terror, centuries long and society wide, was the organizing principle for half the country prior to 1865. The next generation needs to see this, needs to understand it, needs to talk about it.
The tuned-out, uninterested youth had better keep tabs on what they call “the law” in the halls of power today. Slavery was simply a legal construct. As they tap away about nothing the rules of society are being rewritten, whole cloth, right now.
This film is a great vehicle to show people today that significant chunk of history. I hope it wins multiple Oscars.