A movie sure to make waves this Awards Season is the film 12 Years A Slave starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and directed by Steve McQueen.
The piece tells the true-life, period story of Solomon Northup. A free man from New York who was kidnapped and forced into slavery for plantation owners in the South.
Pretty much the most disturbing nightmare ever to come to life.
Without watching a single frame of the film, I can tell the reader this is going to be a tough sell to mainstream audiences.
No matter how anyone tries to spin this, watching a story of a man forced into slavery is not traditional mainstream entertainment. Of course that’s not its intention. The piece is supposed to be a thought provoking piece of art. Nevertheless, it will still be incredibly disturbing for mainstream audiences to watch.
Director Steve McQueen is no stranger to sharing challenging stories of thought provoking subject matter. McQueen previously directed the films HUNGER, about a hunger strike by IRA prisoners, and the critically acclaimed SHAME, about a man’s sexual addiction.
But this is a whole other ball game.
Tarrantino’s Django Unchained explored this material last awards season. But 12 Years a Slave is a brutal, unflinching, true story, while Django Unchained was a violent, cathartic, hip, revenge thriller.
To combat an audiences hesitancy to watch a film with this subject matter, McQueen has filled out his cast with an ensemble of acting all-stars. The cast includes performers Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard and Brad Pitt. In the title role is the extremely affable Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has an uncanny ability to convey grace, dignity, and touching emotional availability. It’s no wonder that he’s already considered a lock for an Oscar nomination.
Director Steve McQueen is widely credited for introducing actor Michael Fassbender to general audiences. But he also has a reputation for a vision of uncompromising, harsh, realism. Not exactly a recipe for mainstream box office success.
Not that there is anything wrong with that. Box Office success is not the be all and end all.
But many would argue that art is most effective when it’s witnessed. And viewed by the masses.
Although McQueen’s work is widely, critically acclaimed. He hasn’t been able to find mainstream box office success. Maybe this will be the film to do it for him. Although rare, movies with disturbing, historical, subject matter have had success. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List springs to mind.
The trailer for 12 Years A Slave accurately conveys the heartless brutality Solomon Northup was forced to endure. The trap for the filmmakers would be to hold back in showing any of the challenges Northup experienced. In order for the film to succeed it has to be almost unbearable to watch. If there’s even a hint of hesitancy in the performances or in the director’s vision the film will be criticized for being untruthful, and even worse Hollywood fluff.
So basically, it’s almost a no-win scenario. Hold back and critics will rip it for being soft. Make it too brutal and mainstream audiences may stay away.
Like I said. A tough sell.
12 Years a Slave stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard and Brad Pitt. The film is directed by Steve McQueen and is written by John Ridley. 12 Years a Slave is scheduled for release October 18, 2013.
12 YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender) as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) forever alters his life.