In this essay I will be discussing a movie directed by Steve McQueen, twelve years a slave. I will speak about McQueen’s use of visual language’ in a selection of scenes from the film and put my opinion on whether I think the movie is a true invention’ or a false invention’. Twelve years a slave is a devastating yet remarkable movie about the life of Solomon Northrup who was a free man but along his path in life, he got abducted and forced into twelve years of slavery.
Not only did Solomon get stripped off of his freedom, he was also denied the privilege of keeping his own identity, therefore he was given the name Platt.The movie begins with the opening words based on a true story’ and this goes to show how the story behind the story is history too. Solomon’s real life story was ignored for the longest period and had he not written his memoir, one would surely think the entire story is a false invention.
Everything changed when the book, twelve years a slave, was converted into a movie that Northrup’s story got recognized and known. I believe this film is a true invention because not only did it engage serious conversations, it also educated a large amount of people of how black men and women were forced into slavery, the cruelty they went through, and the inhuman experiences they encountered. The central message that McQueen intended to send out about the brutality of American slavery created an uproar and triggered discussions about the realities of the peculiar institutions- peculiar institutions being: the practice or institution of keeping slaves ”used formerly of slavery as an institution peculiar to the South in the U.S. Another reason why I say it is a true invention is because those engagements people had, took Solomon from being an unknown person straight to a household name. (Gates, pp, 185-196)McQueen also made use of visual language’. Visual language being a system of communication using visual elements as opposed to formal written language to convey a meaning or an idea. The scene where Solomon woke up chained in a dark cell is a symbol. McQueen used chains as a symbol that signifies no possibility of escaping slavery. The material of the chain, which is iron, makes it impossible to break the chain without any proper tools. Figuratively the could mean that the life of a slave is made up of intricate situations or circumstances that make running away or escaping very challenging and with being chained, Northrup shows that the chains of slavery are not just literal, they also symbolize the conditions that make escaping so difficult. The second use of visual language is the use of a whip. This for me symbolizes the inhuman things white slave owners did to black slaves. It symbolizes the degrading of humans as a whole putting aside racism. It puts a comparison between black slaves and cows, sheep, horses, basically to livestock. Using a whip on slaves was like herding animals for white slave owners and that symbolizes the fact that white slave owners thought black slaves can be bought, trained and controlled by a mere whip just like domestic animals, just like a horse that slows down on a journey or a cow that does not want to go back home after herding. The whip is also used in the scene where Platt’ was commanded to whip Patsey, a young slave who was toyed with to trigger mistress Epps jealousy. Patsey was whipped for every other thing, if Edwin Epps looked at her, she got whipped. Platt was ordered to whip Patsey just because she went to a nearby plantation to get soap to wash with. That was very ruthless, not only whipping a human but Epps expecting black slaves to turn against each other and inflict pain on one another. That was the cruelest thing Solomon was expected to do to his fellow slave, to a woman. The whip was just a tool and excuse for white slave owners to dehumanize black people because of the colour of their skin. That is the message that this visual symbolism sent out. The last visual language that McQueen used would have to be the use of paper that paper that signifies a person’s freedom. Paper can be easily stolen, easily ripped apart, burnt, or thrown away. When Solomon got drugged and abducted, his papers where probably taken by the people he regarded friends’. I think McQueen was trying to show us that a simple paper with ink transcribed into words could dictate the life of a black man in the olden days. Papers that hold no weight became Solomon’s downfall. I cannot help but think that what if Solomon had his papers while he was in the cell? When that white slave trader asked him if he had his papers right after Solomon claimed’ to be a freeman, if Northrup had showed him the papers, would he had let him go ? Or would he have taken the papers and rip them into pieces? I mean he already had the man in the cell ready to be auctioned. Twelve years a slave has pointed out how we as men rely on a piece of paper, identity documents, and passports to speak for our freedom. With paper creating things like xenophobia attacks, apartheid and people seeking refugee but because of simple, weightless papers, people get killed and deported .this movie has shown me that slavery, and other historical brutalities were not just in the 1800s for example, but that things like racism etcetera are still exist among us until today. The responds to the movie would also make a person question the general population’s understanding of the nation’s slave past. We as people are very ignorant. Especially to the history of our nations. That is why twelve years a slave the book that was published in 1853 remained unnoticed until twelve years a slave the movie was released in 2013. Not only did the movie create a platform for Solomon’s book to sell like hot cakes, but it created conversations that people would never would’ve learnt in school which is one of the reasons why I believe this movie is a true invention with this I conclude.