It's important to watch 12 Years a Slave. I get that. The cinematography truly is not to be believed, and the acting is phenomenal — although Brad Pitt has become so overexposed that you can only see him as himself, despite his acting skills. They would have to change his face to make us see him as anything other than Brad, the other half of Angelina. Sorry, but it’s true. Lupita Nyong'o is a rising star to watch. She is exceptional, not overplaying the role but hitting each abominable note with perfection.
Here is the problem: 12 Years a Slave has no plot other than “free black man is enslaved and then released after twelve years.” In the meantime he is brutally beaten and called upon to question everything that comprises his moral compass. While that may seem like an interesting story, it is not. It's a subtitle for the movie, and when you can describe an entire movie in one sentence, they have left something out.
I imagine that this part of our sorry-ass history seems like enough for a few hours of sadness and shuddering at onscreen S&M, but it could have been ever so much more. We have no backstory for any of the characters. You have to tell why someone is the way they are to truly make a strong film, and 12 Years a Slave does not do it. Nope, we have no idea what Solomon's life was like before he was taken, or what life lessons made Burch the callous man he became. Heck, we do not even see Patsey picking cotton, and we are not shown anything that might enable us to understand how she can pick twice as fast as her fellow slaves. Even the Mistresses need backstories. So many victims, not enough history.
It seems like sacrilege to negatively critique a movie that is so important to our history, and so clearly needed in the annals of cinema, but to truly show future generations what slavery was really like, you have do to more than beautifully film the worst our history has to offer. So go back and have someone do it right. Roots did it right, showing the family’s growth and the source of their strengths and weaknesses. Now it's time to do it on the other side. You can't water ski over these characters, brushing them lightly. You have to deep sea dive and really examine them to make it stick. And, it would be worth it.
See the movie. Just because we need reminding.