‘12 Years’ a hit with black filmmakers

Stacy M. Brown | 10/25/2013, 6 a.m.
Famed film director John Singleton says when movies about African Americans debut, he is always one of the first to ...
British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the role of Solomon Northup in the film “12 Years A Slave,” now showing in theaters across the country.

Famed film director John Singleton says when movies about African Americans debut, he is always one of the first to be called for insight. Singleton, who directed the 1991 critically acclaimed drama, “Boyz in the Hood,” recently realized that his telephone hasn’t stopped ringing.

“I’d like to talk about other movies, too,” he said, but acknowledged that he doesn’t mind addressing the recent avalanche of black films, including what many view as an Oscar front-runner, “12 Years a Slave.”

“I’ve seen it and I can tell you it’s a work of art,” Singleton said. “Steve McQueen, who is black and from the United Kingdom, has created a raw and unflinching look at a black man’s descent into one of the darkest chapters of American history, it’s as authentic as it gets.”

Kasi Lemmons, who directed such films as, “Talk to Me,” and “Eve’s Bayou,” said “12 Years a Slave,” and other African American films have resonated throughout Hollywood and around the globe because of their frank portrayal of the various trials of blacks.

“It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said Lemmons, whose new film, “Black Nativity,” will hit the big screen next month. “These films are all different— comedies, dramas, historical dramas, musicals. It really is a whole range of movies primarily directed by and starring African Americans. It’s pretty exciting. “

McQueen’s film “12 Years,” arrived in theatres on Friday, October 18, and counts as a harrowing and unforgettable tale that not only takes audiences back to early America where slavery was an everyday reality, but it confronts the dark reality of this country’s history.

In 1841, Solomon Northup, a free man working as a musician in Saratoga, New York, with a wife and two children, left for a trip to Washington, D.C. Two strangers approached Northup, and claimed to be businessmen seeking to hire a musician. After dining with the men, Northup awakens in chains, captured by slave traders.

He is beaten and shipped to the South to be sold, ultimately to a man named Epps, portrayed in the film by Michael Fassbender.

The beatings are so grotesque and stomach turning, that Fassbender himself noted that he couldn’t watch the retakes during the editing of the film. “It made me sick, I nearly passed out, that’s how real it was,” said Fassbender, who has appeared in such films as “X-Men: First Class,” “Inglourious Basterds,” and “Jane Eyre.”

Violence and degradation dominate the film, including a hard-to-watch scene in which Northup stands all day with a noose around his neck as the ground sinks beneath him as slave owners, slaves and every day folk pass by without acknowledging he’s there.

“There should be Oscar nods for McQueen, screenwriter John Ridley, lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who gives the performance of a lifetime; and, hopefully, Fassbender, who plays the most compelling big-screen villain this year,” Singleton said, adding that it should be noted that the film would not have been made had it not been for Brad Pitt, who produced the movie and played a small but crucial role.