12 Years a Slave (2013)

A missed opportunity?

Oppression of any kind is a delicate issue to depict on the big screen, but there’s not much wrong with Steve McQueen’s biopic of Solomon Northup’s inspiring personal struggle during slavery in the 1800s.

Yet as I watched 12 Years a Slave, something unsettled me that I did not expect: the version of slavery we see is based in the 19th Century. What about now?

Please do not misunderstand me, my family hail from Freetown in Sierra Leone – a city founded by freed slaves in 1792 – so I know of the struggles that ethnic minorities have had to face (and still do).

With a film like 12 Years a Slave, though, we can only watch and feel helpless because slavery does exist, but largely not like that.

According to the International Labour Organisation, there are around 21 million people believed to be slaves in a very elaborate and far-reaching world which lies just below the surface of, and often directly alongside, our everyday lives.

A lot of British citizens may not be aware there is a Minister for Modern Slavery and Organised Crime in Parliament (currently held by Karen Bradley MP if you want to look her up). The UK Home Office even launched an advertisement this year to highlight the growing problem – watch it below.

The extent of this underworld is so widely unknown that bringing a film like 12 Years a Slave into the 21st century will place a much needed spotlight directly on this flourishing and ignominious trade.

McQueen showed us the strength of one man’s fight to get back to his family. But maybe what the world needs right now is to show us the fight that is happening right now at this moment.

At least then more of us will know there still is a fight to be fought for those unable to fight for themselves.


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