Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

We Need Movies That Tell the Truth About Slavery

12 Years a Slave is unflinching and accurate in its portrayal of how a cruel system was maintained.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

November 29, 2013 - 11:00 am
Page 1 of 3  Next ->   View as Single Page

One of the great tales of courage and survival is a book that you have probably never heard of before.  It is the story of Solomon Northup, a free black who lived in New York state in the 1840s.  He was lured to Washington, D.C., under the promise of work as a fiddler. In D.C., he was drugged and then sold as a slave.  Eventually, because of the intervention of several whites both in Louisiana and in his home state of New York, his freedom was restored.  It is the source of the new film by this same title.

This is not the first time that Northup’s inspiring tale of faith and endurance has been made into a movie.  Gordon Parks made a 1984 version for television starring Avery Brooks (who some of you may remember as “Hawk” in the 1980s television series Spenser: For Hire) as Northup.  While faithful to the book, it was produced with about the same budget as some people spend on dental floss, and shot in three weeks.  The acting quality varied substantially, from quite excellent to positively dreadful.  Still, I often use the first few minutes of it in my U.S. history class to emphasize the fundamentally middle class values that many free blacks in America aspired to in that era.

12 Years a Slave (2013) is what I had long hoped that Gordon Parks’ version had been.  Well-funded, it has a few big names (Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt) and exemplary acting performances throughout.  If Lupita Nyong’o (born in Mexico, raised in Kenya, educated in the U.S.), wins an Oscar for her performance as Patsey, I will not be even slightly surprised.  There is not a weak performance anywhere in this – but with material like this, what actor would fail?

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Horse-pucky. I'm done with the slavery movies as well. They serve no purpose and are only good for stirring up hatred of black people (who have never known a day as a slave) against white people (who have never owned a slave). Enough I say!
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
What do you mean "we"? I don't need any movies about slavery.

You want black people to be able to wallow in their victimhood, and learn to hate white people who had NOTHING to do with slavery, I guess that's your right. I see you are a college professor. Enough said.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
OK, you're right; we need movies (and books) that tell the truth about slavery. Which truth? There is the truth of the skilled craftsmen such as Frederick Douglass, a shipwright, who worked on contracts with his master for his services in exchange for some of the cash proceeds of his labor, his sustenance, and such healthcare as there was in the mid-19th century from cradle to grave. A significant percentage of the skilled tradesmen in The South were slaves and most of them lived better than a white subsistence farmer or herdsman, the lot of most white Southerners. This slave could live independently, often far away from his owner. Many maintained families. Their great fear was the misfortune or death of the owner that might cause them and their family to be sold away or separated. Or, the truth of the family of slaves owned by the farmer a cut above subsistence and who generally lived together as a family and lived about as well as the owners, though this family did fear the misfortune or death of the owner also. Or the truth of the slaves of a family home plantation where generations of slaves might live with the same family through their generations. These slaves often lived as stable families and were provided for cradle to grave. The literature is replete with the complaints of the unlanded or smallholder whites regarding the materially much better lives of plantation slaves. Or the truth of the slaves of the worn out tidewater plantations that simply became slave-breeding farms. These slaves were well cared for in the same way that any livestock breeder tried to preserve or enhance the value of his stock in trade but they had no personal or family security; this is the origin of the "sold down the river" theme. Or the harshest truth of the slave sold from a family farm or plantation or the slave breeders to the commercial cotton plantations that swept across The South like locusts after the invention of the cotton gin. In an atmosphere of fraud and wild speculation these enterprises acquired land and slaves to clear the land and grow short-staple cotton until the land wore out and then they moved west. These enterprises were often joint stock companies, often Yankee financed - there wasn't much conventional banking in The South - and the cotton plantations were usually run by hired overseers. The conditions were no better than they had to be to keep the slaves working. This is the origin of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and most of the truth of brutality to slaves.

I'm not offering this as a defense of the indefensible institution of slavery. I offer it to demonstrate that there are many truths about slavery and generally the only one ever told is the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" story of incessant degradation and brutality. If nothing else, slaves were very valuable property and one does not take damaging valuable property lightly. That said, I think it is truthful to say that the antebellum - and postbellum for that matter - Southerner considered a black slave or former slave to be closer to livestock than to white people and even today livestock is often treated roughly.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (151)
All Comments   (151)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
I've got no problems with telling the WHOLE truth about American history - all of it - but that's precisely the problem; we're only told the ugly parts(Slavery) don't hear about the redemption stories(Hiram Rhodes Revels, Blanche Kelso Bruce, Joseph Rainey, Jefferson Long, Robert DeLarge, Robert Elliot, Benjamin Turner, Josiah Wells and the list goes on and on(thanks Glenn Beck and David Barton) ). We don't learn that Africans also sold us INTO slavery on top of being taken, we don't learn that the founders by and large HATED slavery, knew it was morally wrong and knew eventually there would be a price paid but knew that if they pulled the plug on it the republic was dead right then and there. Americans(Blacks most importantly) aren't taught that blacks pulled themselves up out of conditions none of us could imagine and didn't require the help of the government. Americans weren't taught that Fredrick Douglass was asked how to help blacks and he responded with -paraphrasing here- "Leave us alone. Let us rise or fall on our own merits".

If there is more movies to be made about slavery fine, but tell the whole damn story. The good, bad and ugly. History is important and needs to be learned, but only the TRUE WHOLE history. Anything less and the Left/dishonesty has won.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you want a movie about slavery; lets talk about worldwide slavery. America is a pimple on the worlds butt of slavery. Of 12 million blacks sent to North & South America, only 500,000 came to America and now they are enjoying the freedoms of our great country. Lets portray the hundreds of millions of peoples, white, black, brown, yellow and others enslaved and that continue to be enslaved by Islam. This puts the American slave story into perspective. You tell me the freedoms those poor souls experienced and continue to experience.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
One issue often forgotten in the discussions of slavery is the number of white colonial American who were indentured servants and who thus also lived under hard restrictions. America's colonial period coincided with the practice of enclosing common arable land across England, Scotland and Wales, which displaced many agricultural workers there. Initially the blacks imported as slaves were seen as akin to the indentured labor that had been transported as a form of punishment or who had sold their future labor in return for passage from Europe.

To understand slavery in America requires an understanding not only of the the labor markets in the 17th, 18th and first half of the 19th century but also agricultural practices of the era as well as the mercantile policies of Britain. One also has to understand technology. Slavery was only profitable under a a limited set of circumstances- the monoculture of a lucrative export crop, initially tobacco, turpentine/pitch, rice and sugar from cane. These crops grew in hot humid areas that bred diseases-often insect born- that most Europeans had little immunity to. Tobacco, the largest of the initial export crops, also tended to deplete the land.

The idea that slavery as a political problem would fade over time was not a pipe dream of the Founders as some leftists are wont to say. George Washington journals are full of complaints that he couldn't make slavery pay as the Virginia land he owned was too depleted for tobacco culture. Jefferson had a similar problem and both men were known for their land management practices. It was the invention of the cotton gin and the rise of a new export crop in need of labor intensive cultivation that gave American slavery a second life. It was also the development of mechanical cotton pickers around the time of WWII that ended the share crop system that rose to replace slavery in the cotton belt. This in turn lead a large number of largely unskilled black agricultural workers to migrate to northern cities.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why has no inquiry wver been made into just why it was African blacks who were sold into slavery. What was it about their culture or genetics that made it possible for the despised Yankee to enslave them wholesale? Especially if, asToD Perkins asserts, 625 million were killed in the process! Funny, I didn't think that figure was reached for the entire population of the world until, say, 1890.
Also, why does no one ever look at the state of the descendants of African slaves in America and compare that state to the prosperity (not!) of the descendants in Africa? Who were the fortunate ones, in the long run?
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
You've got no reading comprehension at all. I specifically said it was 600 some thousand, not million.

An idiot said it was millions.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well . . .

African Blacks did not have guns. So in the face of raids and invasions by gun-armed Arab slavers, they were easily conquered and enslaved in large numbers.

Those Arabs had a different set of requirements for the slaves they took, namely the full castration of males, which caused a much higher death rate, making the sale of unmutilated men and women to Europeans quite profitable.

As for the comparing the descendants of Africans whose ancestors were enslaved with those whose ancestors were merely colonized, I suggest that needs further testing, and await you volunteering to be enslaved with your children so that we might compare their status in 200 years with the descendants of others who have not been enslaved.
What, not willing to "improve" their lives so much?
I guess maybe slavery isn't all that good after all.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't care how well made or moving the film is. I won't see it. Nor will I see the prostituted story about the WH butler. I'm sick of these stories that constantly pick the scab off our efforts to leave the past behind and get on with the business of tomorrow. We the living don't owe the kind fealtyto the dead that these movies try to pedal. We don't owe blacks a perpetual pass for the trials none of them living have ever endured. Nobody alive was a slave owner; similarly nobody alive was a slave in the South. Why the constant whining about a history that can't be relived or unmade? For God's sake, let's ALL get over it and move on.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
'Facts' will eventually be problematic for victors who have written biased versions of 'history' to justify horrific outcomes. 625 Million dead Americans, on American soil is a tragic outcome. No one can deny that. Truly 'great' men would not have plunged into such an undertaking.

Based on current population, the equivalent percentage would give us 63 million dead men and boys. What moral or political issue today would motivate us to die in such exorbitant numbers? Are we more wise, less passionate or too comfortable after 150 years of capitalism induced prosperity?

The web has made it possible for average folks interested in the era to have easy access to personal diaries, newspapers, military rosters, and various narratives, which reveal a great deal of heretofore unavailable info. We are no longer confined to filtered, abbreviated, corrupted accounts, compiled by 'historians' and authors with agendas. We all know that the victor writes history, the question now seems to be, how many rewrites are tolerable before we become bored?

The old narrative taught in public schools and colleges for over a century, will no longer muzzle those of us who are proud of our ancestors, many of whom were working the land in Va and neighboring territory a hundred years before the founding of this nation. They cannot be segregated from our Founders. They are one and the same.

Strangely, this 'glorious' Union, which subsequently rebuilt Japan, Germany, So Korea, has to this day tragically neglected rebuilding the rural south. The poverty in rural Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, which still suffer the scars of war are obviously a demonstration of the care so-called 'abolitionist' had for former slaves.

Why? Because the victors were primarily interested in permanently cementing the seats of power of the U.S.A. in the NE, and with plunder, thus 'freed' slaves, most of whom had never managed anything more complicated than the business end of a hoe, were left to their own devices to survive off the raped and pillaged land, with no more thought or guidance than suburban dwellers give unwanted pets they dump beside rural farmsteads, fantasizing of the wonderful 'free' life they will enjoy.

Managing a free lifestyle requires training, but to this day we as a society wonder why we have urban ghettos. Did the winners of that war think the south their heroic generals so famously plundered and pillaged had the resources to undertake such a project?
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mr. Cramer, I think the reason you see push back on this issue is because of a sense of massive intellectual hypocrisy being rained down racially.

I'll give you an example: liberals ,especially non-white activists, like to pillory America and the West for its centrism in things like mainstream, science fiction and fantasy literature - film too. No more Tolkien they say, who was a racist cuz of his fear-fantasy "easterlings," even though that "myth" had assaulted Europe non-stop for a thousand years up to 1683 and the second siege of Vienna, including 17th c. Turkish raids on Cornwall and Cork County.

The plea is for Americans to not be so English-centric, American and Euro centered in its landscapes and to show more diversity, the history of other cultures and the like. I've seen books lauded in reviews as much for taking place in Africa or non-European settings as for their art. "I want to see more people like me" is the refrain from emigres who grew up reading Nancy Drew in Africa, saw themselves as excluded and now live in England and America and on CNN.

When it comes to things like slavery, and any American does exactly that, namely, bring in international context, the exact same crowd that dotes on images of themselves in fiction, suddenly becomes irate when they see images of themselves involved in the slave trade. "I don't want to see people like me."

Suddenly they want to see Euro and American centric histories of slavery. A movie about "colonialism" is to be a whites-only affair and indeed that's what it is in postcolonialist studies. As an academic, surely you must know that; and look who teaches such courses.

What does that doubling back on logic tell you? It tells you that all of this has nothing to do with history or slavery. What it has to do with are racial bigots hiding in the weeds of a subject like slavery, or any subject for that matter, the better to "justify" their disdain. They hide in liberalism like Jew-haters hide in anti-Zionism and white supremacists in Confederate Civil War re-enactments.

This why I say the great culture war of today is not politics per se, it is identity vs. identity-neutral principle. It is only about politics in the sense people hide in the Dem Party to better sell their ideas of the tolerant gay and the intolerant straight, the man who can hate women and the women who can never hate men, racist whites and blacks incapable of racism. And they have done a great job of doing so, since that narrative from the most radical fringes is now orthodoxy in the Dem Party.

Without institutional discrimination against blacks and women, bigotry in America is a wash, with true diversity, but those hiding in the Left don't want that discussed. That's why they taffy-stretch words like "institution," "imperialism," and "systemic" to their limit.

Look at what Dems ran on in the last Presidential election: race, and gay and womens issues and class. In other words, it was mostly the distribution of immorality by race, religion, class, and sex. Issues based on principles, such as abortion were there but in the minority. The go-to weapon was to hold up the straight, white, male like a frightening scarecrow.

This is why you have to go to people who are not Americans to see identity-neutral period films like "Vatel" or "Topsy Turvy." If they're American historic films, gays, women and blacks are invariably overrepresented, and their "struggle" at least hinted at if not a centerpiece. That's why Spielberg's "Lincoln" has two black soldiers so sadly out of place at the beginning of the film.

The basis of political correctness is to sell this morality and guilt by identity like a guy sells used cars. History itself has been segregated and distorted. And why do people do this? Why do bigots do anything - it is out of sheer malice.

The great irony is that part of that "sale" is that the philosophical space of a neo-Nazi or the KKK has a certain "look" to it, a white look, and can only ever exist on those terms, even while the greatest source of institutionalized and organized bigotry and segregation comes from within the liberal Left, even while half a million die in Rwanda from black ethnic hatred that spiraled into a further 5 million dead in the Second Congo War. Don't expect any films about the greatest ethnic genocide since WW II unless they can find a way to hang it around my neck.

It is a strange thing that the "racists" have no white websites with PBS and hotel chain ads, nothing like black, gay and whites-only literary anthologies, symposiums and awards while the so-called "anti-racists" are stuffed to the gills with such things. All done in the name of them being oppressed, but without little actual concrete oppression to be able to point to.

When is obvious obvious?

46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
It was 600 thousand, not million. The rest of your spew is as right as that error, off by three zeros.

"The go-to weapon was to hold up the straight, white, male like a frightening scarecrow."

A scarecrow from the past, the way to blunt that weapon is to have accurate portrayals of the past--what you seem to want to do is bury it, and that won't fly.

You may have observed Mr. Cramer say conservatives need to make such movies. It would help if you bothered to go see them.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
If it's a "spew" then why is it all you have is an error that's not an error? About a half-million people or more died in the Rwanda Genocide. The total number of dead that was a direct outgrowth of that event is known as the Second Congo War and is estimated at a further 5.4 million, though no one knows the true numbers for sure.

One thing that is sure, is that from 1994 to 2008, that's a lot of dead.

I'm not even sure you read my post as I am arguing for greater historical context and therefore accuracy, not to bury it, and I am off by three zeros precisely where?

Ironically, your own post speaks to my assertion that PC disdain is independent of and precedes an actual event. Had you actually read my post, you would have no reason to disdain it.

If you're a conservative you're a curious one. Do yourself a favor and add up all the mainstream organizations organized around race and gender on the Left, then the Right. It's probably nearly 100% on the Left. And yet it is a vacuum of such things that is a racial patriarchy?

If you can't even parse the present or read numbers, how can you parse history?
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was replying to TxTumbleweed, who claimed it was millions.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
never met a slave. never met anyone who had ever met a slave. never met anyone who knew anybody who knew anybody who knew anybody who had ever known a slave. however, I do know a whole subset of people all around me who will use anything available as an excuse to get free stuff from the gov. by claiming some sort of victim status. then there's another subset that gain power by stoking the flames. which is worse I wonder?
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
I never go to movies about slavery or the War, because they can be counted on not to tell the truth. The only "truth" they are interested in is the box office take.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
So you didn't notice MR. Cramer writing this one tells the truth really well?
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
frankly my dear, I find it all too too boring

about time we stopped the self flagelation and began making movies of how the slaves were collected by African and sold to Africans and the sold to Arabs who maintain slaves to this day.

But...some of you really really need to keep dumping on Europeans

enough already-
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Now THAT would be a heck of a film. The Presidents of Benin and the Ivory Coast went around to black churches in the U.S. some years ago, apologizing for the part the ancestors of today's West Africans played in selling the ancestors of today's African-Americans into slavery. For some odd reason, it received very little media attention. I only know of it because Henry Louis Gates III wrote about it.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't hold your breath waiting for Robert Redford to make a movie about Janissaries.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 3 4 Next View All