The movie 12 Years a Slave cuts through the offensive absurdity of a respectable Southern plantation culture like Edwin Epps’ whip cutting through the skin of his “favorite” slave Patsey.
Romantic myths about slavery in the Southern United States being “an integral part of gracious, genteel Southern living,” portrayed in American books and films for more than a century and a half, whitewash the cold-hearted day-to-day cruelty of slave ownership. The offensive, repulsive idea that many slaves were content with their lives and circumstances and were “cared for” by wealthy magnanimous owners is shredded by the petty, despicable treatment of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who was abducted and sold, and the slaves he finds himself living among.
I believe there is a continuing need for us to try to understand how one group of Americans felt justified for centuries in considering another group to be their property. Perhaps the still all-too-common view of the world that believes some of us have opportunities and things because we earned them and others don’t because they’re lazy and stupid tells me that many of us still don’t understand.