Set in United States’ pre-Civil era, the Academy Award Best Actor nominee, Chiwetelu Ejiofor, popularly Chiwetel’s role in movie, 12 Years a Slave (2013) is provocative. Its emotional journey should be of interest to every African, Diaspora black or Negro millennial. The movie’s plot exhumes ghostly emotions over inhumanity. This is experienced by Solomon Northup, son of a liberated slave, a violinist born a free human person. More so with the fact he narrated his own biography.
Solomon, a performing artist was torn apart from his family in Upstate New York in 1841. He could have possibly lived a more peaceful life, if not for two con white men, who lie about a lucrative circus performing job in Washington D.C. Perhaps just like visiting Portuguese, English and German sailors, missionaries and military tricked West African ancestors with strange goods and the Christianity. In historical instances today, many African millennials are continually tricked into inexistent jobs that turn out slavery around the world.
A focus on Solomon’s emotional journey as the movie’s main character reveals his attachment to every meaningful remnant of his life with family back in New York. It becomes even more complex as we ‘eye-witness’ him getting sold-off regardless, to different middlemen and plantation owners. In a set of emotional set-ups we also experience his being drugged, kidnapped and later sold into slavery in Red River region, Louisiana, Southern United States.
He becomes a moveable item of trade and backbreaking slavery through next twelve years, survived several different slave masters. He is worst off under southern planter and heartless owner, Edwin Epps. Freed in January 1853, Northup rejoins family, indeed with another emotional finality with family in New York.
Amazingly enough Solomon Northup is played by Nigerian-Briton, Chiwetelu Umeadi Ejiofor. Born to Nigerian parents in 1977 in Forest Gate, London, United Kingdom 13, Chiwetel featured in many school and National Youth Theatre productions. He trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA).
Through roles Okwe, Dirty Pretty Things (2002), The Operative, Serenity (2005) and Lola, Kinky Boots (2005) Chiwetel has proven himself. In Luke, Children of Men (2006), Dr. Adrian Helmsley in 2012 (2009) and Dr. Vincent Kapoor in The Martian (2015), he furthered his career also framed earlier in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. Voted best actor from the British Independent Film Awards, Evening Standard Film Awards and San Diego Film Critics Society Awards). He also did excellently to merit awards from Love Actually (2003), Melinda and Melinda (2004), Kinky Boots (2005), Inside Man (2006), Children of Men (2006), American Gangster (2007) and Talk to Me (2007). His performance also won Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Ejiofor’s stage and television appearances include titular "Othello" (2008), for best actor, Laurence Olivier Awards and Evening Standard Theatre Awards. 2009, Chiwetel was nominated for South Bank Show and What's On Stage Theatregoers' Choice Awards; plus stage role Laurence Olivier Award for Best Play and "Romeo and Juliet." Solomon Northup tumultuous emotional journey marks our first realization he is being lied to by two travelers, Brown and Hamilton. Both promise outrageous fees to feature him a circus show and a return to his; if accompanied to Washington. Solomon later suffers rude shock at waking up in humid cell, chained to the floor.
We are indulged in Solomon’s emotional torture, when he means to write back to whoever might rescue him. His failed attempt to make a writing quill with dark blackberries as ink gets us. His recall of on-demand violin performances and a happy free family back in Saratoga, New York stroke our emotions.
In the dark cell Solomon is beaten for protesting accusation that he is a runaway Georgian slave. He is charged with dropping a dead fellow’s body into the sea; killed for opposing the rape of a female captive, Eliza. He is renamed “Plat,’ to completely erase his identity as a free man.
Any thoughts of escape is discouraged by hindsight it could bring death in the hands of his owners. The sight of the hanging of four black failed escapees drives home that fear. We also feel sorry for him, because he must not expose his literacy level, when handed a shopping list. But such things inspire him to plan his first failed escape attempt and eventually the second, which may kick starts his freedom.
On the whole various emotional fly-back-and-forth to New York and Louisiana enables our connection with troubles facing collective African, Black or African Diaspora humanity. Chiwetel’s awards for roles in such movie stories aligns with our yearning for liberation, especially in contemporary times, when slavery still stares humanity in the face.