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Early Reactions To 'Twelve Years A Slave' Suggest Average Black Audiences Won't Like It

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act February 22, 2013 at 12:12PM

A film I'm eagerly-anticipating this year, which we believe will likely premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is Steve McQueen's Twelve Years A Slave - one of 7 more slave-themed films I highlighted in a January post, that we can expect some time this year.
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12 Years A Slave

A film I'm eagerly-anticipating this year, which we believe will likely premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is Steve McQueen's Twelve Years A Slave - one of 7 more slave-themed films I highlighted in a January post, that we can expect some time this year.

It's a film whose title was mentioned often in discussions about Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, although, from what we know of McQueen's film, there's very little to compare between both films, other than they're both set during a time before slavery was outlawed in this country (the USA). But the narratives of each film, as well as the motivations of the filmmakers behind each film, are very different.

As we wait for an announcement on when McQueen's film will make its debut, as well as for a glimpse at the film, via a trailer, clips, or some official stills, test screenings of the film are currently taking place in a few cities across the USA, and some of our readers attended those test screenings and shared their reactions with us, although, more specifically, the reactions that attending audiences had to the film. So, no spoilers here.

I won't post every email I received, because they all had very similar reactions, but I thought this one was especially interesting in its focus on how black people in the audience received the film. So, check it out below.

As I told my comrades here at S&A, I'm sure Twelve Years A Slave will generate a lot of discussion within the black community. I certainly don't expect it to make anywhere near the box office that Django Unchained did. Not because of its quality - McQueen doesn't disappoint - but, again, these are 2 very different films (one was made strictly to entertain; the other - while its story of perseverance and triumph will move and even entertain you - will most certainly challenge you in ways the other did not). As I said a couple of months, if you were overwhelmed by the so-called realistic, disturbing violence in Django Unchained, you're not ready for Twelve Years A Slave, which, if you're familiar with McQueen's past work, and you've read the novel its based on, or read the script, is far more brutal than anything Tarantino showed you.

But, I'm looking forward to seeing it this year finally!  Depending on who the distributor is, and what kind of marketing push it gets, Chiwetel Ejiofor could very well be in the mix for Best Actor during awards season next year; and obviously, Steve McQueen for Best Director. There could also be some Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress roles as well.

Without further ado, here's one reader-submitted reaction to reactions to the test screening of the film:

I'm a regular reader on your amazing site. I just wanted to let you know that I saw 12 years a Slave at a test screening. Technically, I can't say anything about it, but I just felt the need to write to you about it since it is heavily anticipated amongst the readers and creators of your site. It wasn't quite finished, it was a little long and still needs editing. However, I did enjoy it a lot. What I wanted to write about were the reactions of the crowd. The crowd was very diverse. I would say most of them were average movie-goers. There were also quite a few Black people in the crowd and of course cinephiles and film students. It seemed like a lot of Blacks (at least the ones that I was paying attention to) didn't like it. I mean the film is brutal and really dives into the horrors of slavery. There were no Black women dressed up like pets and there was no Dr. King Schultz (a White guy that the White audience could identify with as being cool and not a racist). Not to say all the White characters were evil racists, just saying there was no White Savior that had a huge part. The story was mostly Solomon's and really focused on Slave life. So I understand that it was going to be uncomfortable for many. A lot of Blacks lambasted it for not being inspirational or for not being fun and being too brutal. There were a few who have seen McQueen's previous films who liked it, but the majority of them did not. I guess they wanted a nicer sugar coated story like The Help or a fun Blaxploitation film like Django. I guess this just brings me to say what do we want? I mean not all Black people think alike or act the same. We are all different, but if we are shaking our heads at a more serious film about slavery then I'm just dumbfounded. I guess what I'm trying to say is maybe We are part of the problem with diversity among Black films. I mean if Black people do not want to see a serious film about slavery then why would anyone else? Why don’t we just fill the theatres with Tyler Perry's films and films like The Help or Jumping the Broom? Is that fair? We have many different stories to be told and I don’t think we should be subjected to just 3 or 4 types of films. Of course most of the Audience were average movie goers who have not seen Shame or Hunger. 12 Years a Slave would probably play better with the art-house crowd. Whites have the luxury of being the majority (in more ways than one) so it's much easier for them to have a diverse range of films. I just wanted to reflect a bit that's all and give my thoughts. Oh and I’m not saying that the film had a negative reception. Overall it was positively received. I just wanted to focus in on the reception from Blacks. I almost forgot, the N-word was dropped a lot. I know a lot of people were up in arms about that in Django.

This article is related to: Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor


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