Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Stars and Director of 12 Years a Slave....

12 Years a Slave - the Stars

By Anne Brodie Oct 17, 2013, 12:28 GMT

12 Years a Slave - the Stars
"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 ...more

Mini news conference, Toronto, Sept. 2013
Steve McQueen’s brutal but brilliant film “12 Years a Slave” based on the diaries of a freeman captured and made a slave is hard to watch. It brings up all the pain and suffering inflicted on Africans kidnapped and taken to America to work as slaves, who for nearly four hundred years endured torture, rape and suppression by white masters. Chiwetel Ejiofor is stunning as a freeman kidnapped and enslaved whose tortuous journey symbolises the worst of the slavery era.  Dr. Henry Gates, an advisor on the film reminds us that 35% of all African American men descended from a white man, a third of all black men have a great-great grandfather from slavery. Rape or cajoled sexuality was common. Michael Fassbender’s character, plantation owner Mr. Epps fits that description.
We spoke with the cast in Toronto about their characters and their deepest thoughts on slavery.
Michael, how did you get inside Epps?
The focal point was the relationship with Patsy the slave that he’s in love with her but doesn’t know how to process that information and tries to quash it by beating her. I tried to find a human being in there as opposed to an evil plantation owner. The word complexity comes up. Being a slave is the worst deal, you’re getting whipped and beaten but the suppresser is going to be effected, the person administering the pain and suffering. Epps was a boil on the skin of society. People say “He’s so evil”. He’s not. He’s a human being caught up I something so complicated and unjust but not evil. I don’t understand that word.
Ms. Nyong’o what did the part of Patsy, Epp’s victim mean to you?
Solomon Northrup describes Patsy so vividly. He says “she had an air of loftiness that neither labor nor lash could get rid of” For me that was her complexity that she could be a person who lived so fully and who was so pleasant tempered and genial and still want to die.
Ms. Oduye, you play Eliza who was separated from her  children and tortured.
Oh God. Naturally your body wants you to do things – it wants to shut down, we’re not going there because this is insane, I can’t do this, I can’t do this. How many takes? I would remind myself that we have a job to do, we’re telling the story, people lived these lives, just relax and breathe and it will all come up – trust and faith.
Mr. Ejiofor, how did relate to Solomon?
I happened to be in Nigeria, shooting Half of the Yellow Sun a film about the Biafran war and there were the slave museums. I was there the day before I had to shoot in Louisiana and I was in the slave museums in Calabar! And the journey that I made from Calabar to Louisiana was the exact same journey the slaves traveled a couple hundred years ago. I was immediately connected. I landed in New Orleans and went directly to the plantations to get the overall history and narratives.
The hanging scene is relentlessly cruel and nauseating. How did you manage?
It was the first real “in” I had in terms of Solomon’s psychology. You realize this person is going to survive their journey. He would have given more years of servitude if they’d moved him a few feet into the shade. I knew it was going to be a special day physically but I was engaged with it and wanted to accomplish that with Steve.
Ms. Woodard, did you know a lot about slavery?
I’ve been an African woman for so long so I have read and studied a lot of my people’s history in this country. The film shows the complexity of slavery. It was an economy for 300 years. It’s as if someone could say “I am going to wake up and we won’t be using the dollar”. We were in the dollareconomy for however long so how did everyone get along? I loved seeing Mistress Shaw; we know she existed in a separate universe right in the midst of everything.
Mr. McQueen, it’s strange that there have no substantial slavery films made and it takes someone from away to do it
I think it’s this country has black president, 150 anniversary of emancipation and Trayvon Martin and 50th anniversary of the March on Washington so with that particular perfect storm, people are ready to receive and to look and reflect on their unfortunate recent past. People are ready and maybe they weren’t before, ready to receive and reflect.
Alfre Woodard
You said it took someone from away, but I'd like to point out Steve has his roots in Grenada, and Chew and Lupita have their roots in England and Africa and that’s the whole big loop that is touched by that and we’re all children of the diaspora even Sarah and Michael.
Dr. Henry Gates
What strikes me about this cast is their pan African nature, the diaspora reflected in the cast and that was created by the slave trade. Sixteen percent of all African Americans. Chewitel, you replicated that trip to go make this and Solomon Northrup recapitulated the diaspora under the brilliant direction of Steve McQueen. That’s a miracle.

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