'12 Years' a Hit with Black Filmmakers

Movie Captures Attention of Director's Contemporaries

Stacy M. Brown | 10/23/2013, 3 p.m.
Famed film director John Singleton says "12 Years a Slave" is "as authentic as it gets."
Courtesy photo

The film would not have been made had it not been for actor and producer Brad Pitt, who has a small but crucial role in the movie.

“There are few stars as big-hearted as Pitt with an interest in exploring challenging subjects,” Singleton said. “More should definitely follow his bold example.”

Because of films like, “12 Years,” the conversation within the black film community is dominated by the new energy jump-started by the Independent movement, said Ava DuVernay, an associate producer, who has worked on films that include, “The Help,” and “Rush Hour 3.”

DuVernay founded the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, which she created to distribute films overlooked by mainstream studios.

“Fresh studio attention to Indie-bred filmmakers recalls an earlier era, when Spike Lee, with ‘She’s Gotta Have It,’ and Reginald and Warrington Hudlin, with ‘House Party,’ parlayed outsider hits into studio careers,” said DuVernay, 41.

Films such as “12 Years,” count among those independent projects DuVernay and others have championed.

John Ridley’s deft, well-structured screenplay of “12 Years” balances moments of terror with telling glimpses of Northup’s sad resignation, said film critic Joe Neumaier.

“The music in the film underscores gently or, at times, jarringly, a symphonic suggestion of being caught in a machine. Through it all, Ejiofor and Fassbender are astonishing,” Neumaier said.

In a previous interview, Ejiofor said the movie is a telling portrayal of not only an American story, but one that’s international.

“I’ve seen this story, specifically set in America, as an American story, but I’ve always seen the kind of international aspects of slavery, the universal themes that the film is discussing and how this kind of system was imposed throughout the African Diaspora,” said Ejiofor, 36, who has starred in such big screen hits as “American Gangster,” “Inside Man” and “Dirty Pretty Things.”

“There is an African Diaspora because of this system. So I’ve always seen slavery and read about it and researched it through my life,” Ejiofor said. “Slavery was a global event.”

Released on limited screens for its debut, the movie grossed $960,000 from a mere 19 theaters, located throughout the county over the past weekend, according to boxofficemojo.com, which tabulates film receipts.

With a $20 million budget, Forbes estimates that “12 Years a Slave” will eventually gross more than $100 million at the box office.

The film, based on Northup’s 1853 memoirs, hints that he had an apparent disregard of the reality of slavery before his abduction, Neumaier said.

Yet, his journey into its horrors becomes the audiences’ own.

“McQueen has made a film comparable to ‘Schindler’s List,’ art that may be hard to watch, but which is an essential look at man’s inhumanity [toward] man,” Neumaier said. “It’s wrenching, but '12 Years a Slave' earns its tears in a way few films ever do.”