12 Years a Slave

Shocking Movie from a master story teller.

I saw it on a plane trip earlier this week. It was so riveting, but I must first share my big shock.

My “impression” or understanding was that the Blacks were used somewhat like the maids we use at our homes even today, to carry out household chores. Obviously, the environment and society were much too harsh some 150 years ago, no doubt. But I was shocked to learn that they were continuously mistreated, badly beaten up, and that the law of the land allowed them to be bought and sold like properties.

I guess I did not read up much about slavery in my young time.

Steve McQueen, the British Director of “12 Years a Slave” has done an outstanding service to all mankind by bringing out this movie in all its credible portrayal of the life of Blacks in the 19th Century in the southern part of the U.S. I was also rather surprised to learn that the Blacks in New York City were considered to be almost equal to everyone else, and could lead a honourable life of their own.

I should say that I was deeply shocked at several brutal scenes in the movie, and I asked my wife not to take my early teenage son to the movie. It took me quite a while to recover after the rather long scene in which the Black girl gets whipped and then the scene when the camera focuses on the result of the lashes on her back. Which human being would do that to another human being in the name of religious virtuosity ?

I do not know the complex society in the U.S. that well, but I can understand that the process of healing has been under way for several decades now. The U.S. has its first Black President, which shows that merit and justice have a significant play in that society. I can also compare the Blacks’ situation in the 19th Century with the plight of the “Untouchables” in India who were equally badly treated by the landlords for several generations, before they were granted equality and affirmative treatment under Indian Constitution and laws.

Though discrimination still persists in pockets, the Indian society has transformed dramatically over the past several decades like the U.S. society did after the 1950’s and 1960s when segregation was abolished despite huge protests.

I should say that the movie is a wonderful experience in learning and healing. It should prove to be a huge learning value for all as they grow up and learn to treat everyone as equals in their respective societies. Most of all, Gandhiji’s philosophy of non-violence against anyone (even against those people who cause you bodily harm) connects to the situation of the Blacks and the Untouchables so well – violence against perpetrators allows them to escape their sin, but non-violence eventually traps and transforms them.

Think about it and see the movie !


Vijay Srinivasan
23rd March 2014


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