’12 Years a Slave’ enlightens us of our dark past

While I have not been posting any of late, I kept a habit of watching good movies – including this one “12 Years a Slave”.

12 Years A Slave. Entertainmentwise.

A story of a Free Black man’s journey to freedom from enslavement, ’12 Years’ boasts of tasty and artful cinematography, that even the direst of torture scenes look like moving paintings.

Stellar performances are given by artists as Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Eijofor who played Solomon Northup – the man whose life the story is based on, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Quvenzhane Wallis, and especially who for her role as Patsy won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Lupita Nyong’o.

Throughout her event appearances for the film, Lupita proved herself a style powerhouse with her spectacular fashion choices as the caped red gown by Calvin Klein she wore at the Golden Globes, the green strapless gown in the BAFTAs, and the ‘Nairobi blue’ Prada gown she wore at the Oscars.

Lupita Nyong’o at the Oscars. Huffingtonpost.

But amidst her classy celebrity persona, in ’12 Years’ she played the life of Patsy – a female black slave repeatedly maltreated by her masters. Although an arduous worker able to produce the most output in her masters’ cotton plantation, Patsy suffered of sexual advances and physical assault.

In one of her most heartbreaking scenes, Patsy asks Solomon to help her commit suicide in her desperate attempt to escape from misery. But a fellow who believes in God himself, Solomon makes Patsy remember of the sin to take life away, and how they will be not unlike of the ugliness their masters resemble if they do pursue.

’12 Years a Slave’ drove through a quick narrative of Solomon’s life away from home – extensive time span covered and looked slow and emphatic. From that time I saw Director Steve Mcqueen’s vision of Solomon hunched, chained, and writhing in a cellar with a single beam of daylight, I became impatient of seeing him go home as a Free Man again.

But somehow it occurred to me that Solomon may have been one fortunate man to begin with. Despite his enslavement, he was born from a family of Free Black people, has achieved education, and has afforded a life for himself and his family. Other Black people of his time may have been born, continuously lived and died as a slave. Not to say that some notions outweigh others, I believe my observation is valid – that there lived Free Black people in the past – and that they, too, may have been instrumental of alleviating the condition of their people early on.

It reminds me of our own journey as Filipinos to freedom. Our history takes us to 300 years of Spanish regime. The Spaniards had the religion Roman Catholicism as their strongest weapon. Even today, our traditions and belief systems are deeply rooted to religion, yet with changes through the passage of time. What may seemingly freed us from oppression was our forefathers’ access to information and physical action of revolutionary ideas.

Illustrados, what may seemingly like have been Free Black people to us Filipinos then, were natives generally privileged enough as to have afforded education in Europe. Their education abroad harnessed revolutionary ideas to free the people in their homeland. Their tools were words. They formed groups and publications aimed to discard the indignations asserted by the Spaniards.

From novels by Jose Protacio Rizal, to poems and sharp blades by Andres Bonifacio, ultimately the revolution was won by the Filipinos against the Spaniards. Then came the Japanese. And the Americans. But today we are generally free, and at the very least fighting against the odds we made ourselves and brought ourselves into.

In some way I believe the journey to freedom of the Blacks inspired our forefathers to do the same. And maybe our forefathers have inspired their struggle too. In this world where strength comes from everywhere, the ability to inspire and enact what ought to be done transcends through borders. For as long the rule of evil continues, there will arise instruments to make things right.

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