Many may feel that there is no longer a need to revisit a time in our history that was so full of brutal hatred. But by looking the viciousness of slavery squarely in the eye, “12 Years a Slave” reveals much about the legacy it left behind and the resilience and humanity of the Black and White heirs of this awful crime against humanity.
For example, is it not possible that sub-standard schools as well as the achievement gaps that persist in so many minority communities can be traced in part to the fact, as depicted in the movie, that for centuries American slaves were forbidden to read or write, punishable by beatings and worse—or that for another century after slavery ended, legislated segregation fostered a separate and unequal society?
Could it be a lingering fear of Blacks held by some throughout our nation’s history?
Is that fear behind the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin or the Nov. 2 killing of 19-year-old Renisha McBride, who was shot in the face by a White suburban Detroit homeowner after she knocked on his door early in the morning seeking help after a car crash?
The brilliance of the filmmakers is that they made no attempt to spin or varnish the harsh truth.
Just as The Diary of Anne Frank has become must-reading for generations seeking an authentic look at the daily life of a Jewish fugitive during the reign of Nazi Germany, “12 Years a Slave” is a raw and real depiction of what life was like for American slaves. It is brutal and uncomfortable, yet necessary.
Students, journalists and anyone seriously interested in American history should see this movie.
Marc H. Morial is president & CEO of the National Urban League @NatUrbanLeague, the nation’s largest civil rights organization.