Paul R. Lehman, The movie “12 Years A Slave” provides 12 valuable lessons for AmericaMarch 23, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American Indian, blacks, Christianity, democracy, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, identity, justice, liberty, movies, Prejudice, race, segregation, skin color, skin complexion, Slavery | Leave a comment
Tags: 12 Years A Slave, African American History, African Americans, black, black and white, ethnicity, European Americans, movie, Oscar, Prejudice, race, skin color, slave masters, slavery, Solomon Northup, white
The movie, 12 Years a Slave, won an Oscar award as this year’s the Best Picture, and well it should have because of the picture of slavery it presents. Many viewers based their evaluations of the movie on how the system of slavery dehumanized and denigrated the slave, showing the harshness of the punishment and pain endured by the slaves. In those cases, once the movie is over, the memories of the viewers rest with the experiences of the slaves. However, the movie’s most valuable and significant element rest in its intrinsic objective—to provided a gift to America of a valuable teaching tool.
The movie, followed by mature and informed discussions, should be a requirement for all Jr. High and High school students because of the way the movie presents the concept of slavery, and how it reflects American life. By doing so, we all can gain unique lessons from it. Let us take a look at twelve of the most obvious lessons we learn from slavery. These lessons are not arranged in an order of priority and most of them overlap, but relate to slavery as viewed from the movie.
First, the movie shows how the enslavers become dehumanized when they treated the slaves as animals. Watching a human being degraded through inhumane punishment and pain reflects on the ones inflicting the actions and the reasons for doing so. The power to whip a human being to death does not make one a human being for using that power, but more a brut for dropping to that level of behavior.
Second, the movie shows how the actions of the enslavers to dehumanize the slaves represent a form of insanity. Although the slaves were human beings, they were viewed and made to view themselves as animals; most people treat their animals with a degree of respect for the service they render. So, when the action of an enslaver goes against common sense, and what is considered normal thoughts, the result is a form of insanity.
Third, the movie shows that all African Americans were not slaves; many were free, educated, business and property owners. For example, Paul Cuffee owned several sailing ship, made and sold sails. In Louisiana, Cyprian Ricard owned almost a hundred slaves (Yes, even some African Americans owned slaves, but not all African slaves); a cabinetmaker from North Carolina, Thomas Day, employed a number of European Americans; and in New York City in 1924, seven African Free Schools were supported by the public. The schools were called African Free Schools, not Negro or black or colored because those terms lacked specificity. So, Solomon being a free man was not an isolated case; not all African Americans were slaves.
Fourth, the movie shows how all European Americans were not supporters of slavery. Had it not been for the characters played by Brad Pitt, and Mr. Parker, both European Americans, Solomon would not have regained his freedom. We also note the behavior of Solomon’s first young master how Solomon was treated with a small degree of respect for his knowledge and skills. All enslavers did not treat their slaves the same.
Fifth, the movie shows how slavery created guilt-feelings in some of the European Americans who knew that slavery was a false concept and that the Africans and African Americans were human being, just like themselves. The guilt came from the fact that they knew slavery was wrong, and in contradiction to the Declaration of Independence and the Bible. Yet, the suspension of truth and reality was substituted for the make-believe concept of viewing human beings as animals and property. The fact that any form of formal education was denied the slaves to promote the idea that they could not learn. This action was a deliberate effort to hide the truth and protect their guilt.
Sixth, the movie shows how laws regarding the ownership of property were generally respected. The laws of property rights reflect the world of finance and business. These laws seemingly took precedent over laws regarding human concerns. A man’s worth was indicated not only in his money, but also in his property including land and slaves. The laws were created and enforced by the wealthy property owners.
Seventh, the movie shows how the insanity of slavery helps us to understand many of the attitudes and actions of some people today, especially the concepts of ethnic bigotry based on skin complexion. European Americans firmly believed that the color of their skin was a biological fact of superiority. The reference to their color as a sign of power was used constantly, especially the European Americans who were hired hands.
Eighth, the movie shows how the belief in slavery promoted a false sense of power, privilege, arrogance, and prestige. For all intent and purpose, the movie shows how some slave masters viewed themselves as gods, controlling the total lives of their slaves. In addition, other European Americans believed that they were created to be masters over other ethnic Americans, so they behaved as though it was a fact.
Ninth, the movie shows how slavery used Christianity in a hypocritical way, for generating fear, intimidation, and discipline. In essence, if the slaves did not practice being good slaves, then God would punish them through the slave masters. Church service for the slaves was a mockery of Christianity since the preachers always quoted scripture that encouraged the slaves to obey the masters and be good slaves.
Tenth, the movie shows how some European Americans believed that the Declaration of Independence was for all people, and some European Americans believed it applied only to them. The European American property owners believed they were entitled to more power, privilege, and prestige than the average European Americans. The country, in essence, belonged to them.
Eleventh, the movie shows how the secular and Christian standards and values did not apply to the enslavers. If a master wanted to procreate with his female slaves, he did so without impunity. His neighbors and fellow citizens gave little thought to what he did to his slaves regarding morals and values.
Twelfth, the movie shows that wedding vows were simply a matter of convenience, not law, with regards to who the master slept or with whom he fathered children. The wives of slave masters knew their place generally, but none-the-less, witnessed daily the handiwork of their husbands in and around the plantation.
The movie, as an invaluable gift, should be used because it tells us who we were, how we got to where we are, and what we need to do to move forward.