A NYFF51 Selection
Chiwetel Ejiofor didn't exactly burst on the acting scene. He's been acting professionally since the age of 13 and attended the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. Since Steven Spielberg cast him in Armistad he has had an increasing number of challenging roles in both film and television and in 2009 was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries.
This year, the 36 year old actor may well be nominated for and even win an Oscar and/or BAFTA for best actor in a drama.
Playing the lead role of Solomon Northup, a free black African-American man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South, Ejiofor turns in a brilliant performance as Northup, who toiled for various plantation owners for 12 years before the law finally came to his aid.
Taken from a memoir written by Solomon Northup, .Director Steve McQueen has woven a story about society that both shocks and fascinates the viewer as the societies of the North and South are contrasted and we become aware of how slavery degrades both the slaves and their owners. What we realize now is how dehumanization and mistreatment of any one group of society creates an unhealthy society. What we didn't realize back when it took place was just how unhealthy our society was at the time.
There are no bad performances in this film. Large or small, all the performances are superb. McQueen had an idea in his head to do a film about slavery in America. When his wife handed him the volume by Solomon Northup he decided this was the story he wanted to tell,
It's hard to believe that a free man could be kidnapped, sold into slavery to suffer for a dozen years from brutality, physical abuse and mental anguish.
Claiming to practice Christianity at the same time that they treated their slaves no better than inanimate possessions or their cattle, the hypocrisy on the part of the white slavers and plantation owners is incredible. There are several remarkable scenes where the white Plantation owners are conducting prayer services with their black slaves seated in a segregated area. They read from the Bible that an owner has the right to treat his possession in any way he likes and do not see their slaves as people rather than possessions.
There's no way to see this film without feeling shock. The shock is made stronger because the excellent performances make the story believable and transport the viewer back into history with jolting realism. The story is brutal and viewers should be prepared for the brutality and the reality of what was transpiring in the country at that time.