12 years a slave

13 Jan

Some art, some experiences change your words into silences. But, then, you have to speak, or die internally. Silence would be the loss of the moment, the experience. Seeing ’12 years a slave’ was and is such an experience for me. I felt a great, great loss. I speak not to lose more.
Now, to speak.
I had read the text, the book, in the past. Along with Julius Lester’s ‘To Be a Slave,’ the reading was life changing. Questions spring to mind:
How can people treat others as personal possessions?
Why not die in face of such suffering?
Why not drown Patsy as she asks?
How have I hurt, looked at others, as a possession?
Have I ever been an abuser of another? Of the other?

To a large degree I feel the film and word text is about another’s desire to transform not themselves, but others. It is about power and its abuses; it is about, loss, identity, a moment. It is about lost memories. Toni Morrison, in her epigram to the her novel ‘Beloved’ writes, “Sixty Million and more,” dedicated to the Africans and their descendants who died as a result of the Atlantic slave trade. Loss.
People, memories, gone. How? Through deaths and naming.
New names were beaten into the slaves, new idenitites were formed. The old self passes away, forgotten, transformed. A beautiful linen shirt, transfomed to a tattered, whipped cloth. What a wife gave and made… taken away. Away. Then, stolen, destroyed. No longer even a memory. Loss.
At the film’s opening moments, a female slave whose eyes rest on Solomon, rolls over to him; joins him. He gives willingly to her, but then, then she turns over. Away from Solomon. We thankfully do not see her face as she sobs. We only see her back; her tears, her identity gone, stolen.
At first I could not understand why she was crying, this unnnamed woman who desired Solomon. As the film moved forward, I knew why. I sadly knew why. She was crying at the lost of memory: the sexual act called up to her, her past love making with a lost one, a lost memory. Her tattered shirt.
This moment hints at, foreshadows, the film’s end when Solomon returns home to find his wife married to another. He can only ask for ‘forgiveness’ at that moment. Forgiveness, for his small part in the loss; forgiveness at losing his children, his wife, his life.
For Solomon, he failed them. They speak: there is no need for forgiveness.
But there is. That is why Solomon cries as he asks; his tears forming a stream with the unnamed woman who joins with him during the night in a public slave sleeping cabin. Their act together will yield only a memory of tears. This one moment is joined by the many other moments that were and are forgotten. Moments of sex, without love, moments of people being transformed into things. Beings without real names. Sex without a touch. Shirts torn and tattered and trashed.
12 years, eternities lost. Forgotten. Torn and tattered. Lost.60 million gone.

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