Revisiting 12 Years a Slave and what it means to ‘connect’

Chiwetel Ejiofor. Man oh man.

Trying to parse why I – and so many people, it seems – feel or felt left at arm’s length by this film. So many people say they admire it more than anything, that for all the world they can appreciate its beauty but it just doesn’t connect.

And I begin to realise that, well, that’s kind of the point. The first time I saw this it seemed as though the aloofness of McQueen’s approach the material was a bug, but really it’s a feature. There’s an extent to which I think we all want to watch a film like this and come away with a greater sense of understanding, a better comprehension of exactly how a story like this comes to be made truth. Every time McQueen severs the audience’s connection, or prolongs a scene to the point of it snapping like a string on a violin, it’s a deliberate affront. We – and I use the royal we with specificity and in self-reference to my exceeding whiteness – can’t comprehend this.

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