August 2, 2021

the history of the blacks of America taken in the vision of Franz Kafka


After Django Unchained, by Quentin “fuck history” Tarantino, et Lincoln, by Steven “God bless America” ​​Spielberg, it is the turn of the Briton Steve McQueen to make a film touching on slavery. His words are harsher and more realistic than fabulous or apologetic.

12 Years a Slave is an adaptation of the Memoirs of Solomon Northup, a 33-year-old black man living free in Saratoga, in the abolitionist state of New York, who was kidnapped in April 1841 by southern “poachers” and spent twelve years of his life in captivity in slavery Louisiana, before having his identity recognized. The punctilious chronicle of survival in a hostile environment, where everything is mortal danger, a pretext for punishments and humiliations: the daily yield of the gathering, the protest of dignity, the mark of intelligence, the attempt to flee …

Read the interview with Steve McQueen: “My film is a call to arms against those who think that freedom is given to us”

A free man, good citizen and loving father of a family, who falls into disrepair overnight, reduced overnight to a status equivalent to that of a beast of burden, victim of a system that is only justified by segregation… It is a bit like the story of the Blacks of America taken in the vision of Franz Kafka: the sudden and peremptory deprivation of your freedom, the implacable, cruel and absurd logic of a system designed to crush you.

Alienate a man’s body

From the hunger strike of an IRA political prisoner (Hunger, 2008) to the sexual chronicle of a New York yuppie (Shame, 2011), McQueen always makes the body of his characters, the carnal ordeal they bear, the intellectual and moral stake of his films.

His third feature film shows slavery as it first alienates the body of a man, as it deprives it of freedom, as it stigmatizes it, such as it humiliates it, such as in a word, he deprives him of his humanity. Biblical simplicity, if you will, of this project, except that looking carefully in the history of cinema no film really leads it to success as it is so radical.

A difficult bet which consists in retaining the spectator for more than two hours as close as possible to a hero incessantly martyred, as close as possible to the abuses inflicted on him, and therefore at the risk of bitterness seizing the public at the sight of this spectacle which shames Western civilization.

Read also: “12 Years a Slave”: slavery, an infamy that crushes bodies

There is here an obvious cousinization with the project of Abdellatif Kechiche in Black venus (2009), who stood entirely on the tightrope of exhibition and voyeurism, deliberately making the viewer’s position untenable. Unlike him, however, McQueen grants us the right to be romantic by choosing a subject that is out of the ordinary but can be shared by all. He makes this experience sufficiently universal to make the public in turn captive of a story featuring a story as singular as slavery.

12 Years a Slave Anglo-American film by Steve McQueen. With Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti (2:13). Netflix