Dutch Affairs / Dutch East Indies / English / Film / Friendship / History / Thoughts

What a film can do

You know I have deeply been impressed by the movie 12 years of slave. So deep that I asked a dear friend of mine, Tracee, about it. Tracee is an African-American living in Oklahoma, USA. My question was “How did the viewers react in the USA to the movie? How was their reception? Her reply was so extensive I got to understand some scenes in the movie better. With her approval,  I copied and pasted it here.

cottonculture 1875

This is what she wrote:

I was deeply affected by 12 Years a Slave. As intense and powerful a film as this is, I think Americans live in a sense of denial/apathy about our founding years as a country UNTIL a film like this comes about. Two scenes I found very powerful:

1) The use of religion as a means to control the slaves into believing that this was their destiny within God’s plan and to be thankful for their miserable lives (which is B.S.).

2) The attempted hanging, where the main character balances on his toes, for hours, and everyone else goes about their day~ another man’s pain is business as usual (more B.S.).

In my opinion these two powerful scenes frame our reception to the film, and to the legacy of American slavery in general. The film was successful at the box office (which tells me it’s on our mind) but didn’t spark the conversation and healing. I hope it does in the future.

While legally American blacks are emancipated, I feel as a people and a country we are far from free. Much spiritual healing is needed and we are still ashamed of ourselves because of this history. Many, as with many whites, brush off films like 12 Years as ‘living in the past’ or not entertaining. I didn’t find the film entertaining but definitely necessary if only to spark conversation. We are still a young country, which for many years depended on free labor to support our economy. The legacy continues to divide us on skin color and class, to be such a diverse nation. It’s the elephant in the room, an ugly one.

12 Years reminds me of my own genealogy, reading the words of one my great grandfathers, detailing how he was owned by another man…It hurts me in my soul. I choose not to be angry about it which doesn’t change anything; but productive and positive in pursuing personal freedom in all areas of my life. It is a jolting, painful reminder to live free at all costs, even though many of my fellow Americans (as in the film) don’t think things are all that bad. It’s not all bad, but the bible is still being used to feed personal greed and in many ways it is business as usual while our fellow-man balances on his ‘tippy-toes’. The reality of it makes me sad.

I am encouraged, however, by people like Brad Pitt’s character, who simply put are ‘different’. For whatever reason, they haven’t been marred by passivity or comfort and are willing to be agents of change. This is the type of person I want to be. 

Of course, this is where I plug my undying love for Andy Whitfield, the Spartacus story and my Sparty peeps. I always drift towards these stories because they resonate with me personally. They show me that our stories aren’t different but the same story being told over and over; with various characters, times and locations, in the pursuit of living free.

An explanation for the last paragraph: Tracee is one of my Spartacus friends. We met through an online forum about the series Spartacus Blood & Sands. Fascinated by the slaves’ quest for freedom, we discussed a lot about the series and the history. Now she has become one of my Sparty sisters.

Tracee wrote

They show me that our stories aren’t different, but the same story being told over and over; with various characters, times and locations, in the pursuit of living free.

Her statement reminds me of another great movie I saw in 2012 Cloud Atlas. And it also reminds me of the life of my ancestors when Indonesia was a Dutch colony and called Dutch East Indies. Indonesians were the third grade citizens in their own country except the nobilities. Just like Tracee it hurts me to think about it but I am not angry because that was what really happened. If I was angry, I would not live here in The Netherlands. So I totally  agree with her, the pursuit of living free is from all ages and for all races, don’t you?

Image is taken from Social Science Soapbox


10 thoughts on “What a film can do

  1. Insightful and relevant post indeed! And I of course agree with you that mere anger in the present about gross injustice suffered by ancestors in the past, is counter-productive.

    I believe that to really know and understand one’s identity is important. And knowing and understanding one’s roots can be a big help. Therefore we should avoid selective perception though. Nuances (because of the necessary contexts and the probability we all have ancestors who have been perpetrators and others who have been victims at some point(s) in history), are mandatory.

    • Thank you Colson. I chose, like Tracee, not to be angry about it because that was what really happened. We can’t turn back the time, can we?

      The nuances you wrote are there. In the movie 12 Years of Slave it is clearly presented that a slave owner has to take mortgage to be able to buy his slaves. So slavery was not cheap. Owning a slave was not for everyone at that time which is very different compared to slavery in Roman era. Not every slave owner was mean although it stayed of course slavery.

      I just want to use this to help remembering. Like it or not, it is a part of history which needs to be told.

  2. Mbak, jujur ya.. kalo mbak Yo bikin jurnal sepanjang ini dlm bhs inggris… aku langsung jiperrrrr…. Takut salah tangkap artinya. Haha, payah deh ah! 😆

    • Kok jiper? Jangan lah ya 😉 Ini yang tulisan miring tulisannya temenku, orang Amerika. Buyutnya dia budak, dan dia cerita dia ngga dendam sama yang memperbudak buyutnya. Aku tanya apa pendapat dia tentang film 12 years a slave, dia jawabnya panjang lebar, makanya aku muat disini.

  3. belum pernah nonton filmnya, but i do believe however the movie is, if it s regarding slavery, it will leave me shaking with anger after i m watching it.

  4. Indonesian Chinese yang dobel minority masih mengalami noit slavery but diskriminasi sampai sekarang ini. Walau diskriminasi itu bukan slavery tetap mempunyai kesamaan, kita dikelas kambingkan dalam urusan hak hak kita.

  5. Mba Yo, 12 years of slave memang bagus banget ya, pilu banget rasanya pas nonton. Antara percaya dan ga percaya orang kulit putih dulu kok bisa memperlakukan orang kulit hitam sampe segitunya. Banyak bagian aku ngeliat mereka seolah ga dianggap kayak manusia. Film yg harus ditonton banget, thanks ya mba yo infonya. Seneng tiap berkunjung kesini selalu dapet ilmu baru 🙂

    • Betul Mar, Budak itu dianggap property yang punya. Miris ya liatnya. You’re welcome lah, aku hanya suka share cerita aja disini.

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