As of this writing, I’ve just finished watching the film, Twelve Years a Slave.
I don’t know where to begin.
I cry when I think about what my ancestors endured during this most heinous part of American History; history that is only 150 years removed from my life today (Note: that’s less time then the 244 years Africans spent “officially” enslaved).
From my perspective as an artist, the movie is exquisite. Starting with the script, the shot choices, all the way to the costuming, everything rings true to period. The dialogue, particularly that of Solomon Northrup and the other Black characters, holds a subtle but powerful profundity that I’ve never seen before in films that have characters with faces that look like mine. The story is moving to say the least…and it is hard. Oh so hard.
To White people who truly want racial reconciliation; who authentically desire a way to empathize, if not understand, the journey and experience of African Americans in this country; or who silently (or not-so-silently) wonder about or cannot comprehend the source of our “hang ups on race” …go see this movie.
To Black people who wrestle with their identity; who struggle deeply with unknown and indeterminable separation anxieties; who want to truly know the depths of the price paid by our ancestors for us to have even the aspiration of and/or opportunity for freedom today…go see this movie.
(By the way Black folks, stop worrying yourself silly over “another slave movie.” This TRUE story has the same right—if not more so—to be told as the fictional accounts of a few good-looking friends getting together to figure out their relationships. Yes, I’m looking at you BEST MAN HOLIDAY! See you Friday! LOL)
To people of all other races and ethnicities: if you’ve ever questioned why “those” people do this or that or why communities of color, particularly black communities, seem to be living in perpetual catch-up mode; why some of us carry the residue of our past over our heads and in some cases, around our necks…read about Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome HERE and then…go see this movie.
And finally to my fellow believers, there is an added lesson embedded in this story. One that if you’re not careful or discerning you’ll surely miss.
This film tells the story of what physical and mental slavery looks like: The wretched disregard for human life. The creation of divisions amongst brothers and sisters. The estrangement of families.
Sounds a lot like the spiritual enslavement some of us find ourselves in right at this moment.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the enemy of her soul, the worst of all slave masters, used the trials of life and the manipulation of those who were supposed to love and protect her, to snatch away her peace. She was handed 500lbs of fear and told to carry it or else. This counterfeit enslaved me with the weight of the sins that were made against me and later, my own.
And you know what?
After a while, feeling helpless and unable to fight, I accepted my fate. I lived in bondage and tried to “make do.”
But my heart remembered. My soul remembered what it was like to be free in spirit. And it longed for that time.
“I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” – Solomon Northrup in Twelve Years a Slave
For 25 of my 38 years on this earth, I settled on survival. As good as any “slave” I could keep my head down and smile like everything was alright. I went to church, I read my bible, but I struggled with allowing the spirit of God to live completely in my heart, to trust that the blood of Jesus had set me free from all the pain, heartache and even the unforgiveness I harbored in my heart. The scars on my spiritual back were the result of the whipping I’d received by life and living; wounds that seemed to re-open in every relationship I had and many of the choices I made.
Ten years ago, I began the long road back to spiritual freedom. If I’m honest, I’ll say that I’m not there yet. Every step I take is arduous. There are moments when I feel like I’ve been recaptured and sent back to the field. But just like Mr. Northrup, I will never forget who I really am. I am a child of God. Meant to live free in Him. And I will take the risk to tell that to anyone I can.