12 Days of 12 Years

Posted on Wed 22 Jan 2014
Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave

Last week, we reported on the remarkable audience reaction we were receiving in response to 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen's blisteringly powerful new film about slavery. Since then we have hosted another Q&A, this time on slavery on screen, and our first Twitter discussion themed around the film - so here again is an update of activity generated by a film that continues to provoke and astound.

On Wed 15 Jan our Cinema Curator Mark Cosgrove and Roger Griffith, Chair of Ujima Radio, lead a Twitter discussion on 12 Years A Slave, which you can read below. Despite Twitter breaking down for a large chunk of the chat at the beginning, it was a big success and some interesting comments were made...

The Twitter conversations will continue for two more evenings - Wed 22 Jan and Wed 29 Jan - and we'll keep on getting new voices into the mix as hosts, so tune in from 18:30-19:30 on those dates using #12shed, and have your say.

On Sun 26 Jan we held the second of our Q&As (the first - a personal 'Context to Slavery' - can be watched here), this time with writer, historian and commentator Dr Edson Burton, who looked at 'Slavery on Screen' - including past cinematic depictions of slavery, and how 12 Years A Slave is different from its predecessors.

Edson was kind enough to share his reflections on the film for us earlier in the month (which you can read here), and it was a pleasure to welcome him back for another sold out screening.

For the introduction, Edson and film and music journalist Adam Murray took the audience through a whistle stop tour of slavery on screen, beginning with Birth of a Nation right through to slavery's invisibility in the antebellum South, including Gone With the Wind. There were several 'slaveploitation' films made in the 1970s, and the more recent big budget treatments of slavery (Glory, Amistad, Amazing Grace and Lincoln among others) were primarily focused on their white protagonists. Edson said that by fixing us firmly in the world of Solomon Northup, 12 Years A Slave is unique in cinema history. You can watch the full introduction, and the brilliant Q&A and discussion session, below:

Following the screening Edson and Adam returned to facilitate discussion, respond to comments and provide additional context. Edson said:

"Silence, muted conversation and solemn expressions revealed the impact of the film, and some recurrent themes emerged from the audiences' wide-ranging response. Many felt that the film was a way to understand contemporary attitudes to race, black on black violence, discrimination and power imbalance. Young people and their youth workers felt the film should be compulsory viewing for those in secondary school. A young woman spoke movingly of how that sense of interminable dread experienced by Solomon is still present in Black life.

"'All we get is a bridge with a plaque' was one reaction to the perceived poor response of Bristol to slavery - and it was one that drew murmurs of approval from most of the audience. Not all of them, it has to be said, commended the film or its intentions - some criticised what they perceived to be the film's narrow historical focus.

"One woman said it was 'disgusting - it was degrading to Black women'. Her response came from a place of distress. Adam and I suggested that perhaps, it was the reality that was depicted which was disgusting, and not the film. If in that regard McQueen's purpose was to make sure we were left with no illusions about slavery - 12 Years has done its job perfectly.

"Since the screening, through conversation, via Facebook and text, many who did not feel able to speak in the aftermath of the film were keen to say that they found listening to reflections on the film cathartic. 12 Years A Slave is not easy viewing but, if you like cinema that is challenging, engaging, and provocative - it is a necessity."

12 Years A Slave will screen for at least one more week, and the last of our Q&A will take place this Sunday (26 Jan) at 14:00, when Dr Madge Dresser, Associate Professor of History and the University of the West of England, will lead a discussion on 'Slavery and Public History'.

For those who would like a more informal discussion, feel free to get your voice heard at one of our informal meetings in the Café/Bar, happening after the 17:30 Tuesday screenings and the 14:20 Saturday screenings, or scribble down a thought or two on one of our comments cards on the noticeboard - the response has been so large we're going to keep your thoughts up for another week!