Sample Paper on Movie Review “12 Years a Slave”

“12 Years a Slave” Analysis


The effects and nature of slavery the people of African American descent faced in the United States is part of the most controversial subjects in American history. In the course of the twentieth century, most American historians have critically debated various slavery interpretations in American society (Fradin & Fradin, 2012). Most of the scholar’s viewpoints in relation to critical theory have failed to consider the systematic and serious documentary records of slavery in their research work. Almost every social class historically involved in the aspect of slavery has had its own opinions and views on the subject of slavery examination. “12 years a slave” plot is a significant reflection of the author’s own life experience (Fradin & Fradin, 2012).

According to Brookfield’s “The power of critical theory: Liberating adult learning and teaching,” he supports his views about the significance of creating a relationship between practice and criticality especially in educating the public (Brookfield, 2005). This is one of the liberating forces as portrayed in the film, “12 years a slave.” Critical theory as a liberating force for freedom from brutality and forced labor portrayed in the film is capable of surmounting the racial and ideology boundaries created through slavery. Based on critical theory, Brookfield elaborates on the relevancy in assisting in liberation as a cognitive power to enhance critical thinking and respect diversity in society. This is evident in the film through Solomon Northup, a freeman snatched from the streets of Washington and later sold into slavery fights to secure his freedom. The film explains how the critical response to situations based on critical theory not only liberates but also creates a platform for the enhancement of a free and democratic society.

Brookfield is compelled to assist in viewing the aspects of slavery, racism, and ideology as one of the invitations for learning reconstructing. Critical theory is portrayed in the film as a springboard factor meant for developing skills to enable the critical analysis of the impact of racism and ideologies as well as gender issues as depicted in the film. This was in relation to economic, social, and democratic injustice (Brookfield, 2005). The slavery imagination from the film scenes as defined in the audience minds revolves around Solomon, who by the act of a miracle manages to escape the slavery system that could have diminished his dreams of seeing his family again. Such imagination is free of the other victims (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2009). The film presents some of the most significant themes including:


            “12 years a slave” is one of the most admirable films with an engaging experience. The aspect of slavery is not a new subject on the contemporary screens (Northup et al, 2013). Cases of violence and torture as portrayed in the slavery film, “12 years a slave” portrays the aspect of racism. This makes the film one of the most captivating and interesting films. The film revolves around the aspect of racism practiced in northern and southern America in a form of slavery. The majority of the northern people who managed to gain their freedom from their merciless masters suffered the acts of racism as depicted through Solomon and Patsy in the movie. Racism is addressed as a key factor behind slavery in the south (Slattery, 2006).

The film elaborates on a true story about how the race of African Americans was targeted for slavery. Solomon Northup, an African American who lived in 1842 in Saratoga Springs, New York as a free man until he was snatched from the streets and sold into slavery by traveling white showmen who lured him with promises of making fast money plays the role significantly. The white showmen claimed that Solomon in return would make enough money from playing the violin. The film portrays the early days when the African American people underwent torture experience and were forced to work in the cotton fields with the harsh conditions in the South (Northup et al, 2013).

“12 years a slave” presents powerful arguments about the significance of critical theory in relation to the aspect of Racism. This is to foster learning that leads to an exploration of facts behind the connection between racism and slavery for purposes such as learning to unmask the power, liberation, challenge ideology, reclaim reason, and overcome sexuality alienation. The appearance of the film coincides with the upsurge in the societal debate about the traditional reticence on the aspect of racism and its general existence in American society (Northup et al, 2013). In the movie, the major premise hinges on the concept that human thinking in cases of racism as portrayed through Solomon Northup determines the success and failures and the societal view on the aspect of slavery.


In the film, the aspect of ideology among the white people was used in nurturing the evil of enslavement of the African Americans. The selling and buying of slaves were based on the ideology that the African Americans were only meant to serve the white masters. The film seeks to connect the aspect of racism and slavery with practice in a liberating experience and how people approach violence and torture through challenging relative ideology (Northup et al, 2013). The film is used to present slavery critically through a cognitive process with the ultimate goal of educating society on the negative impacts of ideology that the African American people are not equal to the white people.

In the film as the white characters are introduced, the audience is apt to search for a face with empathy or compassion sings only to encounter general inhumanity. The story commences at a sugar cane plantation where the protagonist, Solomon, an African American by origin, is depicted as one of the struggling slaves. The beginning of the film elaborates the moment of the protagonist while cutting sugarcane on a plantation on the watch of several masters (Morgan, 2003). Later on, the story shifts to a flashback, a moment earlier in time, the year 1842 when Solomon was living in Saratoga Springs, in New York. Together with his family as a free man, very good player with Violin also, a very skilled carpenter. He had a wife and two children. Solomon has seen bidding goodbye to his wife and children as they set for a journey (Morgan, 2003).

Based on a critical theory, the film is a window through which the society is able to examine the world of ideology used to nurture slavery, think of the best ways of eliminating it, and create a society free of violence and torture. Contending to the need of creating a link between ideology criticality and practice, the film supports most of the views expressed through the major characters to fight against an ideology of slavery with aligned arguments as seen in the eccentric Canadian journeyman carpenter. He had antislavery views that most of the white Southerners’ slave masters dismissed as harmless (Northup et al, 2013). A resulting position from the film holds that ideology nurtured slavery in the south that turned to be brutal in the American society and that its eradication is a liberating force for freedom and personal identity.


Solomon while in slavery is portrayed in the film as a character who does not want to survive but is dominated by the will to live to go back to his family. The brutal overview of the aspect of his slavery experience in the American society is a significant factor that stems from divergent thinking based on the challenges he faced to deconstruct racism and slavery ideologies (Merriam & Brockett, 2007). Through the 12 years Solomon was in slavery, he never surrendered the desire to reclaim a birthright of freedom. However, heart-rending cases of betrayal frustrated the several attempts; he had in escaping (Morgan, 2003).

The film then portrays Solomon working on a gazebo construction under a company of a laborer from Canada, Bass (Northup & Eakin, 2013). Eventually, despite all that he went through, Solomon encountered a chance with a Canadian journeyman carpenter, Bass who had antislavery views. The Canadian assisted Solomon in informing Solomon’s wife about his whereabouts who in turn mobilized friends and some of the local officials to secure Northup’s liberty (Morgan, 2003). In such a scene, McQueen presents criticality as an examination concept influencing a decision-making process (Northup & Eakin, 2013).


This is portrayed in the case where Solomon at times fights back, the action that leads him to the noose having suffered an attempted lynching from John and his friends. The only way to save his life is by selling him to another master. The many attempts to reason with William fail, leading to a sale. Solomon’s new slave master is Epps also hosts a slave by the name Patsy, who is able to pick 500 pounds of cotton on a daily basis, far above the required 200 pounds despite the harsh conditions. Such kind hard work is highly praised by the master who on regular occasions rapes her (Pinar et al, 2004). Patsy also faces cases of humiliation from the wife who envies her. Such cases resonate with the power of critical theory and ideologies, which creates a vision for hope beyond the aspect of modernism in slavery. Following a cotton worm outbreak, the master leases the slave to the plantation neighboring throughout the rest of the season (Pinar et al, 2004).

Solomon is able to play the fiddle for the plantation owner at a celebration to mark a wedding anniversary, who in return favors him with a coin. Solomon while still in slavery uses an opportunity he finds to draft a mail and uses the money he secured to motivate an overseer to try to mail the letter to his friends back in New York (Northup & Eakin, 2013). However, Solomon is betrayed by the field hand man and this leads to Solomon convincing the master that the letter was just a lie. Patsy at some point asks Solomon to kill her following the continued abuse she suffers from the master. After missing from the plantation for a while, she is stripped and tied from the orders issued by her master and receives merciless whipping. Under the concept of freedom, Solomon is unable to prosecute the two men who trapped and sold him to slavery. The film concluding credits majorly recounts the inability of the legal counsel to bring the two men to justice and the mystery surrounding his death and burial.


In the film, cases of alienation are portrayed through the African American slaves. The majority of the northern people are subjected to alienation experience through their merciless white masters. The film base alienation on acts of racism as depicted through Solomon and Patsy in the movie. Racism is addressed as a key factor behind the alienation of African Americans in the south. Slavery alienates Solomon from his family for 12 years (Northup & Eakin, 2013). This is through the whites who conspired to inebriate and kidnap him and later sold him into slavery after receiving savage beatings upon pleading for his freedom. Alienation also sets an unrelenting brutality tone in the film through slave characters which enable the creation of a link between slavery, racism, and ideology (Northup & Eakin, 2013).


Liberation is evident in the film through Solomon after experiencing 12 years in slavery. He is liberated from the hands of a lynching party by Ford, who later sells him to Epps, an irrational, leering sociopath, and another master. Epps is portrayed as mercurial and tyrannical following the abusive obsession, he developed with Patsey, one of the young African American female slaves. Northup is also liberated and restored to freedom towards the end of the film through the help of Bass, a Canadian journeyman carpenter who had antislavery views. The Canadian assisted in the liberation of Solomon by informing Solomon’s wife about his whereabouts who in turn mobilized friends and some of the local officials to make way for the secure release of Northup (Morgan, 2003). Through the liberating concept, the film presents the other side of an American society that values the aspect of freedom and personal identity.


The themes presented in the film connect through the primary character, Solomon. Based on the aspect of racism, slavery, and ideology, the camera shots of McQueen are intended to stimulate claustrophobia, existential and physical aspects of the will to survive. Throughout the film, the director emphasizes the dynamic relationship between slavery, racism, and ideology through Solomon (Morgan, 2003).            In the presentation of the critical theory concept in an integrated manner, the film addresses the aspect of liberation, power, and freedom (Hooks, 2004). Through the elements, McQueen leads the audience to a perception that slavery is not a choice but is instigated through specific individuals in society. The film’s common slavery examples and language assist in the clarification of understanding for a novice audience in a critical discourse.

“12 years a slave” potently can serve as a significant entry point into a critical thinking discourse following relation to social, professional, and personal life (Brookfield, 2012). Solomon having identified his fate after subjection into slavery; has the determination to live just to see his family again and therefore decided to maintain good relations with his new master (Northup & Eakin, 2013). This reflects on the concept of socialism that influences cases of decision-making. The lack of freedom in specific environments transforms situations and assists individuals become productive and critical thinkers (Schiro, 2008). The film elaborates that critical thinking should be perceived as the relative springboard for the reintroduction of critical views of divergent choices from the perspectives of race, gender, post-modernism, and slavery.


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