I finally got to see 12 Years A Slave. It was an outstanding film—as good as advertised. Obviously, as with many epic movies, the subject matter is difficult to watch. I find films about slavery in the United States in the 1800s particularly hard to watch. My family is from the North, as far as I can trace my roots: Ohio, Illinois, Iowa. I think the Mason-Dickson line only reached as far as Missouri.
However slavery didn’t exist only in the southern states. It also did not begin here in America, with white men/women purchasing and enslaving men, women, and children brought in from Africa. In fact, slavery has pretty much been a blight upon our kind, well, since the idea of “social strata” entered the mainstream minds of society.The earliest recorded mention of slavery is actually in the Louvre. The Code of Hammurabi, dated around approximately 1772 B.C., mentions the following in one of its codified laws:
“If any one takes a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death.”
Serfdom really wasn’t much more than mass slavery, after all. Many countries were guilty of enslaving not other nations, or even prisoners of war (two well-known sources of slavery) but of their own people. “The rich enslaving the poor” is the easiest way to have it said, I suppose, though nothing is ever as simple as a paraphrased explanation might make it sound.
China, India, Africa, Greece, Britain, Ireland, France, New Zealand, North America, Brazil, Christians, Muslims—it seems no country or land or religion really escapes the moniker of one-time slavery participant.
Of course the one that matters most to we Americans—i.e. residents of the United States—is the abolition of the abhorrent practice in this country and, worse, the continued blemishes on the country that continue to this day. I hesitate to say that it seems now “en vogue” to create films about slavery. If it is, then it is perhaps the first good thing to be “en vogue”. The stories of our ugly history need to be told. The forthcoming generation I call the “E” generation for “Entitled”, but it could also be the “A” generation for “Apathetic” or “B” for “Blasé”.
Not to drop the horrific history of our nation at the feet of the next generation; I only worry that their collective lack of empathic concern might cause the gravity of what happened then—of the violent civil war; brother fighting brother for the freedom of our equals—should not perish from this great nation’s history or, worse, the minds and stories passed along to future generations.
That is why these current films are so important, including the deserved awards they receive. I’ve heard people—“friends”—say things like “oh they only received the awards because—“. Having seen the films myself, I disagree, but even if they had, I think the exclamation point such an award puts on a movie for all time is a necessary one, lest anyone ever forget what happened. In a nation founded on NO OPPRESION. On every man being EQUAL.
Currently slavery is illegal in every country in the world, yet “human trafficking” remains one of the most prolific international crimes. Children, women, and even men—sold into slavery. Granted, there is much crossover between the crimes “illegal pornography” and of “human trafficking”, which was my only reason for saying “even men”. It seems our kind—human beings—have found yet another way to make “slavery” profitable.
I cannot travel back in time. If I could, I know where I would stand. I know where the people I consider true friends, true Christians, true Muslims, true human beings would stand. Then again I could simply be as naive as the most dewy-eyed banana that just fell off the boat. Where were all these honorable and righteous human beings a hundred years ago? A thousand? Ten thousand?
To quote the late George Carlin: nowhere, mon frère.
Do me a favor. If you read this blog regularly, and have not seen Django: Unchained or 12 Years a Slave, please go see one or both now. Today. Or at least next weekend. Carve out a few hours and watch each with the attention it deserves. The two films are done in an entirely different cinematic brilliance. I am a big Quentin Tarantino fan (Django: Unchained), and if you like his style, he will not disappoint, getting across the message in his own, in-your-face, primal way; the latter, 12 Years a Slave, is quite simply a fabulous film, directed by Steve McQueen (no, not that SQ), and produced and co-starring (in a small but vital role) Brad Pitt.
Either, or, if you want both an afternoon of entertainment and a reminder from whence we come, both.
As I mentioned before, had I been living in those times, I know what side I would have chosen. There is no conflict in my heart or soul. It is not just about right and wrong, or good and evil, or God versus secularism. For me, no one may call him or herself a human being unless they are appalled at the slavery we humans have done in the name of __________.
But my question stands:
Where were we all THEN?
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Author known to use spontaneous satire, sarcasm, and unannounced injections of pith or witticisms which may not be suitable for humorless or otherwise jest-challenged individuals. (Witticisms not guaranteed to be witty, funny, comical, hilarious, clever, scintillating, whimsical, wise, endearing, keen, savvy, sagacious, penetrating, fanciful, or otherwise enjoyable. The Surgeon General has determined through laboratory testing that sarcasm can be dangerous, even in small amounts, and should not be ingested by those who are serious, somber, pensive, weighty, funereal, unsmiling, poker-faced, sober, or pregnant.) For those who enjoy and/or revel in the utterance of profanity, the author reserves the right to substitute “fish” for “fuck” without fear of repercussion, mental reservation, or purpose of evasion.