12 Years a Slave : Honoring the Book and Film

"The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see." -- Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Weeks ago I saw the film 12 Years a Slave, at the first Saturday matinee 12:30 p.m. showing at a multiplex on February 8, 2014 on my day off. Then afterwards, I also desired to see much lighter fare. To which later, I finally saw Thor: The Dark World at 7:30 p.m. at another multiplex that shows late holdover films (which I also eventually had planned to see that film anyway). For me to see two films in one day is rare, and such what had happened after viewing the first film.

The film 12 Years a Slave directed by Steve McQueen is without a doubt a potent film, a provocative and powerful film that will stick with you well after seeing it. And that is good.

I really only had just one minor concern while viewing 12 Years a Slave, to which not too long after seeing the film ended up being groundless. The concern had to do with a minor but pivotal character in the film, the man named Bass acted by Brad Pitt. Now more than ever I'm aware of the major difference when a Hollywood film is marketed as based on a true story, as opposed to being inspired by a true story. Simply put I was concerned that the character in the film named Bass was perhaps fictional, and we have seen this done before untold times in such Hollywood films. The film Moneyball for example is based on a true story. Yet in that case one of the major characters in that film named Peter Brand, Yale educated mathematician assistant to Billy Beane the Oakland A's baseball GM, acted by Jonah Hill is fictional. Though in that case, the Peter Brand character was based on not only the real Harvard educated Paul DePodesta who worked with Billy Beane, but also supposedly based on an amalgam of several other Oakland A's advisers who worked with Billy Beane, acted in the film also by Brad Pitt.

So what did I do after having watched the film 12 Years a Slave? I sought the book, having acquired it from a hold list from a local library just before the 86th Academy Awards ceremony. Finally having the book I went through it like brush fire, so much so, that it reminded me when I read both the Alice Walker book The Color Purple, and the Tom Clancy book Clear and Present Danger. The book Clear and Present Danger is my favorite of the seven techno-thrillers written by Tom Clancy that I've read so far. For who could forget the twelve foot long alligator named Nicodemus kept by the U.S. Marines.

Yes there was a real life person who was simply named Bass from Canada. And he made his fateful appearance into the life of the kidnapped Solomon Northup who also wrote the book, in the nineteenth chapter of his twenty-two chapter book. Now spoiler alert, that is, for those of you who have not yet seen the film, nor have yet read the book. The character Bass appears in the film for a brief time, perhaps several minutes at the most. But in the book, this man thoroughly goes out of his way for Solomon Northup from the nineteenth chapter to the twenty-first chapter of his gripping memoir. For example in chapter twenty, the very first sentence written by the former slave Solomon Northup from New York reads as follows, "Faithful to his word, the day before Christmas, just at night-fall, Bass came riding into the yard."

So yes, there was a man named Bass. As well there really was a man named Edwin Epps, owner of a Louisiana plantation where Solomon Northup endured ten of twelve years of slavery. Such a role was acted in the film, by the amazingly talented Michael Fassbender. An actor who is half-German and half-Irish, Michael Fassbender is currently on the cover the latest British GQ February 2014 magazine with an article titled, "Evil Never Looked This Good," by Jonathan Heaf. That is, in referring to the actor's roles in not only 12 Years a Slave of which he was Oscar nominated, but also in the 2012 Sci-Fi film Prometheus as David the android, a prequel to the first Sci-Fi classic film Alien.

And of course, there really was a woman named Patsey. A woman who had picked the most pounds of cotton more than any man or woman in the fields, such a woman was caught in a tug of war as the object of lust and cruelty from Edwin Epps, and the hatred and cruelty of Mistress Epps. And such a woman as Patsey, was acted by the vibrant Lupita Nyong'o, who earned an Oscar for the role.

Actually I missed out watching the Oscars because of two reasons. The first reason was that I finally saw Gravity, and in 3D at the final showing at 5:05 p.m. on March 2, 2014 on the eve of the Oscars. And the last was that after the showing, I could not wait any longer to blast through the book 12 Years a Slave. I saw Gravity as a visually dynamic film, and I didn't learn of the final results until after the Oscars. Nevertheless, I wasn't surprised.

Film critic James Berardinelli of Reelviews Movie Reviews had once said in referring about a particular film, "...in a business climate, courage is the number one characteristic needed by anyone with the goal of fashioning a work that is deliberately thought-provoking but lacking in mass appeal. Such idealistic intentions won't inflate any director's bank account, but they may make an enduring statement."

The film Mr. Berardinelli was referring in the quoted excerpt written on January 1, 2000, was the classic Sci-Fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick. Budgeted at $20,000,000, 12 Years a Slave according to Box Office Mojo has done well, by earning more than double domestically as of March 5, 2014 at $50,000,000 domestically and more than quadrupled at $90,000,000 at foreign markets, to a grand total of $140,000,000 worldwide. This of course I do realize pales in comparison to Gravity which again according to Box Office Mojo as of March 5, 2014, has earned $700,000,000 worldwide.

Nevertheless I have to applaud director Steve McQueen for helming the film. And of course I have to applaud his life partner Bianca Stigter who inspired him with the project, all written about in the January 10, 2014 London Evening Standard web article titled, "12 Years a Slave: Bianca Stigter on finding Solomon Northup." I also have to applaud Brad Pitt and his production company Plan B Productions, for he took a chance by taking on the film. And lastly I must applaud the talented lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor who portrayed the abducted violinist from New York, the man known as Solomon Northup.

A final appeal, you don't know what you are missing if you have not at the least read the book 12 Years a Slave. I do suggest for the one where Ms. Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Phd writes the introduction, but it is after all only a suggestion. Anyone of the editions will do, but please read the book. For some may say its black history. No, it's the history of all Americans.