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Reacting To Armond White's Torturous Reaction To '12 Years A Slave'...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
October 16, 2013 5:59 PM
78 Comments
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While I haven't yet personally reviewed the film on this site (I want to see it a second time before doing so), if you read my interview with director Steve McQueen, as well as my September 25 piece on slave movies, titled Despite Success Of '12 Years A Slave,' Many Stories Set During The Period Still To Be Told, you'll know that I was underwhelmed with 12 Years A Slave (I first saw it about a month ago). 

However, I certainly don't despise it. I just feel that praise for it has been excessive. 

But if you think I've been "anti" 12 Years A Slave, you're in for a "treat" in S&A film critic fave Armond White's review of the film, published this afternoon.

Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that White didn't care for the movie; after all, it won't be the first time that he's critically-obliterated a film that's seemingly universally-loved. It's humorously expected. And given the celebration that has been critical and audience reaction to 12 Years A Slave, a literary thrashing of the film by White was a near-certainty. 

Not to imply that he's a contrarian just for the sake of it, by the way. Although some have argued in favor of that, I genuinely anticipate reading what White has to say each week, in part because he's one of very few prominent black film critics, who commands attention and respect. The man knows his shit, to put it bluntly, and he knows that he knows his shit, and he's not at all afraid to show how much shit he knows. And I'd argue that some simply don't know what to do with, or how to handle his aggressive, adversarial nature. I appreciate the fact that he never walks away from a challenge, and I almost always learn something (especially about other films) from reading his film critiques - even though I don't always agree with his opinions.

They are also, at times, just plain entertaining to read - whether that's intentional or not. So I get an education some times, while being entertained in the process! The old one-two punch!

And he certainly doesn't disappoint in his 12 Years A Slave review.

Here's a sample of some of the more incendiary lines from the review, which, by the way, is titled "Dud of the Week; 12 Years A Slave," prepping you for what's to come:

- Depicting slavery as a horror show, McQueen has made the most unpleasant American movie since William Friedkin’s1973 The Exorcist. That’s right, 12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre with Hostel, The Human Centipede and the Saw franchise but it is being sold (and mistaken) as part of the recent spate of movies that pretend “a conversation about race.”

- This is not part of social or historical enlightenment – the too-knowing race-hustlers behind 12 Years a Slave, screenwriter John Ridley and historical advisor Henry Louis Gates, are not above profiting from the misfortunes of African-American history as part of their own career advancement.

- Because 12 Years of Slave is such a repugnant experience, a sensible viewer might be reasonably suspicious about many of the atrocities shown–or at least scoff at the one-sided masochism: Northup talks about survival but he has no spiritual resource or political drive–the means typically revealed when slave narratives are usually recounted.

- It proves the ahistorical ignorance of this era that 12 Years a Slave’s constant misery is excused as an acceptable version of the slave experience.

- These tortures might satisfy the resentment some Black people feel about slave stories (“It makes me angry”), further aggravating their sense of helplessness, grievance–and martyrdom. It’s the flipside of the aberrant warmth some Blacks claim in response to the superficial uplift of The Help and The Butler. And the perversion continues among those whites and non-Blacks who need a shock fest like 12 Years a Slave to rouse them from complacency with American racism and American history.

- The fact that McQueen’s harshness was trending among Festivalgoers (in Toronto, Telluride and New York) suggests that denial still obscures the history of slavery: Northup’s travail merely make it possible for some viewers to feel good about feeling bad (as wags complained about Spielberg’s Schindler’s List as an “official” Holocaust movie–which very few people went to see twice). McQueen’s fraudulence further accustoms moviegoers to violence and brutality.

- McQueen’s art-world background recalls Peter Greenaway’s high-mindedness; he’s incapable of Q.T.’s [Quentin Tarantino's] stupid showmanship. (He may simply be blind to American ambivalence about the slave era and might do better focusing on the crimes of British imperialism.) Instead, every character here drags us into assorted sick melancholies...

- And Alfre Woodard as a self-aware Black plantation mistress rapidly sinks into unrescuable psychosis. Ironically, Woodard’s performance is weird comic relief–a neurotic tribute to Butterfly McQueen’s frivolous Hollywood inanity but from a no-fun perspective. By denying Woodard a second appearance, director McQueen proves his insensitivity. He avoids any hopefulness, preferring to emphasize scenes devoted to annihilating Nyong’o’s body and soul.

- Some of the most racist people I know are bowled over by this movie. They may have forgotten Roots, never seen Sankofa or Nightjohn, disliked Amistad, dismissed Beloved and even decried the violence in The Passion of the Christ, yet 12 Years a Slave lets them congratulate themselves for “being aghast at slavery.”

- The egregious inhumanity of 12 Years a Slave (featuring the most mawkish and meaningless fade-out in recent Hollywood history) only serves to perpetuate Hollywood’s disenfranchisement of Black people’s humanity.

- Steve McQueen’s post-racial art games and taste for cruelty play into cultural chaos. The story in 12 Years a Slave didn’t need to be filmed this way and I wish I never saw it.

What's most curious to me about his reaction is that I actually didn't find the film as harsh, repugnant and torturous as he did. In fact, as I've shared in previous posts, I believe that there are still even more brutal (physically and mentally) stories to be told about slavery. Although, I've also said that there's a rich history here (of the Transatlantic Slave Trade), full of a myriad of tales of all kinds, mostly untapped, which could be fodder for countless films to last many lifetimes. And I certainly hope that 12 Years A Slave won't be the final word on slavery movies in America, but instead the one that encourages a much closer look at those many momentous years in American (actually, global) history, where numerous untold tales are currently buried - tales of the inhumanity endured, for sure, but also of the triumphs, the loves, the hopes, dreams, traditions and mythologies rooted in the cultures from which our ancestors were removed, and everything else between the extremes, whether historical fact, or creative fiction.

I'm looking forward to the conversations that follow, once the film opens this weekend, and expands to other cities over successive weeks.

Read Armond White's full review of 12 Years A Slave HERE.

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78 Comments

  • avago | March 16, 2014 4:40 AMReply

    I came across this site, when, after watching 30 minutes of 12 years a slave i googled " is 12 years a slave miserable all the way through ?".
    Enough said.

  • avago | March 16, 2014 4:40 AMReply

    I came across this site, when, after watching 30 minutes of 12 years a slave i googled " is 12 years a slave miserable all the way through ?".
    Enough said.

  • avago | March 16, 2014 4:39 AMReply

    I came across this site, when, after watching 30 minutes of 12 years a slave i googled " is 12 years a slave miserable all the way through ?".
    Enough said.

  • avago | March 16, 2014 4:39 AMReply

    I came across this site, when, after watching 30 minutes of 12 years a slave i googled " is 12 years a slave miserable all the way through ?".
    Enough said.

  • avago | March 16, 2014 4:39 AMReply

    I came across this site, when, after watching 30 minutes of 12 years a slave i googled " is 12 years a slave miserable all the way through ?".
    Enough said.

  • avago | March 16, 2014 4:39 AMReply

    I came across this site, when, after watching 30 minutes of 12 years a slave i googled " is 12 years a slave miserable all the way through ?".
    Enough said.

  • avago | March 16, 2014 4:39 AMReply

    I came across this site, when, after watching 30 minutes of 12 years a slave i googled " is 12 years a slave miserable all the way through ?".
    Enough said.

  • avago | March 16, 2014 4:39 AMReply

    I came across this site, when, after watching 30 minutes of 12 years a slave i googled " is 12 years a slave miserable all the way through ".
    Enough said

  • avago | March 16, 2014 4:38 AMReply

    I came across this site, when, after watching 30 minutes of 12 years a slave i googled " is 12 years a slave miserable all the way through ".
    Enough said

  • avago | March 16, 2014 4:37 AMReply

    I came across this site, when, after watching 30 minutes of 12 years a slave i googled " is 12 years a slave miserable all the way through ".
    Enough said

  • T Nails | February 13, 2014 10:08 PMReply

    Tambay,

    I've commented before on your interview with Steve McQueen. As I'd mentioned I'd worked on "Shame" and appreciated his doing it his way in today's film industry. Then I saw the film. And you couldn't have said it better : "underwhelmed". Because the subject matter is grave and horrific doesn't mean I should care. I need to be invested and identify on some level with a character before you pull the leg from their chair for me to care. Their fates meant little to me. I think most of the white press is having a guilt fueled love fest for the movie. I confounds me to no end. The storytelling was not up to the story. Northrups' saga truly deserved a treatment better than one that made it feel like 12 Months a Slave.

    As a contrarian to the sheeple critics of today, I look forward to White's take.

  • GonzoGates | January 13, 2014 7:36 AMReply

    I could not disagree more. before I begin may I ask a question that no one seems to be asking? If it is so distasteful and ugly and acceptable to watch a movie that shows a relatively valid portrayal of the horrors of life for many slaves, and it puts it into the genre of horror show and torture porn, why can't the same be said about the hundreds of movies and television shows that we have seen depicting the horrific evils of the holocaust - the number of dead emaciated bodies, stories about experiments on children, human skin used as lampshades, torture, burnings, etc. We all seen them a hundred times and are still seeing new depictions everyday. No one ever makes these comments about that. or says that it was so long ago that it's no longer relevant (like someone whose grand parent or great parent died in the Holocaust, my great grandfather (still living mother's grandfather, was born a slave) , or tells a Jewish person that they should just "get over it" when talking about the Holocaust or Hitler's atrocities. No one ever tells the Jewish person that complains about something that he sees as anti-semetic, that he is playing "the Jewish Card". We blacks should not accept that crap any more than Jewish people should. .

  • jack11111111134434343 | January 8, 2014 9:15 AMReply

    So just like people who do not approve of Obama's policies, if a person does not like something it must be because they are racists? You liberals are pathetic. YOU are the racists. Clearly White is saying stop showing this brutal movies that hold people down. You just don't get it. He MUST be a racist, he did not like it. Hollyweird racists.

  • Wanna Be Critic | December 24, 2013 2:36 AMReply

    This is the same loser who praised "Nutty Professor". Need I say more? 12 Years a Slave is an extraordinary film and Armond White is an ordinary prick. No wonder they kicked him off Rotten Tomatoes.

  • Wanna Be Critic | December 24, 2013 2:36 AMReply

    This is the same loser who praised "Nutty Professor". Need I say more? 12 Years a Slave is an extraordinary film and Armond White is an ordinary prick. No wonder they kicked him off Rotten Tomatoes.

  • Wanna Be Critic | December 24, 2013 2:36 AMReply

    This is the same loser who praised "Nutty Professor". Need I say more? 12 Years a Slave is an extraordinary film and Armond White is an ordinary prick. No wonder they kicked him off Rotten Tomatoes.

  • Wanna Be Critic | December 24, 2013 2:36 AMReply

    This is the same loser who praised "Nutty Professor". Need I say more? 12 Years a Slave is an extraordinary film and Armond White is an ordinary prick. No wonder they kicked him off Rotten Tomatoes.

  • Wanna Be Critic | December 24, 2013 2:35 AMReply

    This is the same loser who praised "Nutty Professor". Need I say more? 12 Years a Slave is an extraordinary film and Armond White is an ordinary prick. No wonder they kicked him off Rotten Tomatoes.

  • Wanna Be Critic | December 24, 2013 2:35 AMReply

    This is the same loser who praised "Nutty Professor". Need I say more? 12 Years a Slave is an extraordinary film and Armond White is an ordinary prick. No wonder they kicked him off Rotten Tomatoes.

  • LenaAFoster | November 5, 2013 12:36 AMReply

    Armond gets it!! The others don't. I understand Armond's view and agree. My concern is for the folks stuck in the middle. For instance people with valid Title VII claims in our courts right now. Will the race peddling and race baiting film makers, after they are done making names for themselves off of slavery pay the back pay and make sure reinstatement occurs after half the white jury gets mad for being called racist trolls and the other pseudo intellectual jurors (now desensitized and having satisfied their duty of empathy) now uses lynchings as the standard for bad acts? "Its just a workplace problem not a lynching...."I agree this type of torture porn ala slavery style riles people up and desensitizes at the same time. And its the people with real issues that will end up suffering in the end.

  • regi | October 29, 2013 5:09 PMReply

    i don't find white's criticisms persuasive. he seems to be hankering for some kind of "true" or "realistic" movie, instead of a work of art by an artist. HIS idea of how history or black people or slavery SHOULD be portrayed to be true to HIS ideas about them. HE should make that movie.
    i agree that in many ways "12 years" is a "horror film". to which i add "and...? so what? why not?" why not tell a story of slavery, from history as a "horror story"? i don't see why that's inappropriate. i didn't like "django" but not because of it's genre-bending (er, confusions), but because it was stupid and, to my eyes, incompetently made. NO ONE can seriously make those criticisms of "12 years", whatever else he may dislike about it.
    also white's further criticism that, in the film, northrup "has no spiritual resource or political drive" to survive totally misses his profoundly deep desire to return to his family, something i was aware of in every frame of the movie. again, mr. white seems to not be looking at the movie in front of him.

  • CareyCarey | October 18, 2013 10:13 AMReply

    The big day has arrived, everyone can now see Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave.

    The scratch lines have been drawn with Armond White arrogantly standing on one side with a chip on his shoulder. I am more than sure there will be those who will gladly oppose the gladiator with the sharp pen. When the dust settles, I doubt we'll see traitors crossing the battle line to join forces with the opposing camps. Those who have a predisposition to champion this film and those who dislike everything about the contrarian mudslinger, will hold their battlelines, humans generally do not change unless their backs are against the wall. And, it has been said that the four most difficult words for humans to say are, I was wrong, I love you, I don't know and I am sorry. So I doubt we will see any of those words spoken in this forum.

    I have seen the movie and read the book (it's on-line and it's an easy read which can be read in a day) and I've run my mouth excessively on what I thought of the film.

    "Yes the f*ck you have Carey"

    But before the dust clears, let me explain my position one-more-time. :)

    Having read the book and seen the film and read Armond's review, I have to agree with his position that McQueen's version of Solomon Northup's journey weighed a wee bit too heavy on shock and horror. The book (about 300 pages) did not have the tone of horror nor were there vivid descriptions of rape and mutilation. Mr. McQueen's depiction of those event were manifested in his own mind. Why did he chose to go there? Well, only his hairdresser knows for sure, but some folks need that type of shock and awe in their movie watching experience. And some folks believe it's a necessary evil in order to show the true horrors of slavery. To that shortsighted opinion, I have to borrow a phrase from a song written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and recorded by the Philly soul musical group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes: "If You Don't Know Me By Now"... you will never ever know me! In essence, no one will learn anything new by watching this film. So really, why did Steve McQueen chose to focus on the violent aspects of Northup's book?

    Well, again, I don't know, I can alone assume that he knows what sells best. But I do know, in fairness to the director, he was true to the book in the sense that he followed the book to a tee, chapter after chapter. However, the devil's in the details that he chose to highlight, and conversely, those he chose to leave out. Listen, I am not a screenwriter (nor a seasoned writer, by any stretch of imagination) but again, having read the book, I can't help but believe this story, this movie could have been a greater event had the writer and director chosen different chapters, different scenes, different details to highlight.

    Having said all the above and in my more spirited previous comments, I give the film a 7 1/2. It was entertaining. And, some of the actors may hear their names called during next year's awards season.

  • RJE | October 17, 2013 3:58 PMReply

    Depicting slavery as a horror show, McQueen has made the most unpleasant American movie since William Friedkin’s1973 The Exorcist. That’s right, 12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre with Hostel, The Human Centipede and the Saw franchise but it is being sold (and mistaken) as part of the recent spate of movies that pretend “a conversation about race.

    Slavery wasn't a phucking horror show? Stealing people from another land, keeping them like property and forcing them to work for free isn't a horror show? I have yet to see 12 YEARS A SLAVE but Armond White is coming out the gates with unbelievable statements that lead me to believe he's a frustrated filmmaker.... "Critics are those who sit atop a hill and watch a war... then run down to kill all the survivors."

  • jack111111111 | January 8, 2014 9:17 AM

    Slavery is NOT a horror show? So you approve of slavery? Wish you had a slave do you?

  • Rel | October 17, 2013 3:22 PMReply

    White has negatively reviewed Blue Caprice, Fruitvale Station, 12 Years A Slave, The Butler(even a blind squirrel finds a nut), and Newlyweeds all this year. Every review basically says he doesn't approve of the blacks are portrayed. His view blacks should never been seen suffering even in cases of films of real life blacks suffering. I think it's very limiting when we won't allow for blacks to be anything other model citizens to assure the white viewing audience that we aren't all savages.

  • CC | October 17, 2013 3:36 PM

    Hmmm, assuming much? S & A's editor did not find The Butler nor 12 Years A Slave without "fault". He's also a black man. So, can we assume his displeasures with those films is rooted in the negative portrayal of blacks?

    Btw, did Armond actually say blacks should never be seen suffering in films??? Come on now, talk about something you know.

  • Joe | October 17, 2013 2:52 PMReply

    Armond White can take his critique and stick it up his Southside!

  • Casey | October 17, 2013 12:49 PMReply

    Ironically, his description made me want to see the movie. On DVD, while having a drink or two on my sofa.

  • happybrowngirl | October 17, 2013 12:16 PMReply

    Here's a link to read Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853.

    Trigger Warning! http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/northup/northup.html

  • turner | October 17, 2013 11:21 AMReply

    Is it just me or does this dude look like lucifer?

  • Rocket | October 17, 2013 4:15 PM

    I was thinking the same thing.

  • SF | October 17, 2013 10:36 AMReply

    "- Some of the most racist people I know are bowled over by this movie. They may have forgotten Roots, never seen Sankofa or Nightjohn, disliked Amistad, dismissed Beloved and even decried the violence in The Passion of the Christ, yet 12 Years a Slave lets them congratulate themselves for “being aghast at slavery.”

    -- only excerpt that gave me pause; the rest is grandiose hyperbole.

    Having said that, I have not read the book but will do so. Once I have, I'll return here and comment if my perspective is changed...

  • Aaron | October 17, 2013 9:24 AMReply

    Thank you, Mr. White. I had doubts on even watching it in the first place since there was a wave of slave films hitting screens since D'jango came out. Just another one of those films to make others feel good about their good ole days.

  • AC | October 17, 2013 2:52 AMReply

    i_just_ don't_ like_ this_ dude. It's like his job to be on the extreme end of negative critique of black "mainstream" actors and film. It makes me NOT read his articles or articles about him.

  • Bforreal | October 16, 2013 11:42 PMReply

    It's strange and intriguing, this conversation. I see and somewhat agree with Armond's point, but I also agree with those who think Armond's review is ridiculous since, after all, slavery was in fact a brutal horror show. Good points all around on this message board. This is a good conversation, and I'm glad S&A posted about Armond's review.

  • NO BRAINER | October 16, 2013 11:40 PMReply

    "And the perversion continues among those whites and non-Blacks who need a shock fest like 12 Years a Slave to rouse them from complacency with American racism and American history." -- White

    Excellent point. Unfortunately, the perversion is necessary to make people care about other people who don't exactly look like themselves. The problem with the human race.

  • CareyCarey | October 16, 2013 10:28 PMReply

    Wait a minute, hold up, some of you have this all fu*ked up.

    Those who have read the book knows Solomon Northup's journey was much deeper than a pandering horror story. That fact gives credence to Armond's words-->"It proves the ahistorical ignorance of this era that 12 Years a Slave's constant misery is excused as an acceptable version of the slave experience."

    That's right, pure ignorance is fueling many of the comments berating White's opinion. Listen, what fool does not know slaves were brutalized. Slaves (in many cases, not all) were treated as one would treat a dog, I get that. Slaves were hung, raped and used as baby farms... I get that, I know that, only a fool would believe otherwise. And if you talk to a fool long enough, there will soon be two fools talking.

    Hey, any ol' redneck or country bumpkin knows when his dog or cow or pig or horse isn't obeying commands, he has a few options. He can whip his chattel and shot it. He can even feed it slop, and sell it to another redneck. Hell, he can even kill it and eat it, it's all legal. He doesn't even have to feed them... if he doesn't want to. So why would anyone think a slave's life was any different? But least we forget, they say a dog can be man's best friend.

    I am suggesting that Armond's criticism is valid, Solomon's 12 year journey (read the damn book) was more than a horror show of a white man fu*kin', hanging and whipping slaves. Yet, Steve McQueen decided to champion those heinous crimes - why? Oh wait, white folks (and some misguided blacks) needs to see that segment of slavery, right? Please, and what will those uninformed white folks (and some misguided blacks) do with these "new" revelations?

    That reminds me, who was Solomon Northup? What was New York's atmosphere in the 1840's. Did Solomon encounter racism prior to his kidnapping? What is his wife's background? Did Solomon come from money, where did he get his education and how did he become a free man?

    Or wait, the period of slavery in the United States was nothing but the story of brutal rapes, flesh ripping whippings and nightly hangings at Old McDonald's Farm. Yeah, that's a ridiculous suggestion.

    Hey, make no mistake about, for many blacks in that period, life was a constant nightmare, but if one does not believe there were thousands of blacks who knew nothing more than being a slave, and thus, were comfortable in their surroundings, I would not only question their knowledge of American history, I would question their understanding humans in general.

    Listen, just because one is owned by another person, that does not deplete said person of the capacity to experience love, happiness, joy, hope and understanding.

    Armond White is correct, Steve McQueen, John Ridley and historical advisor Henry Louis Gates, are not above profiting from the misfortunes of African-American history as part of their own career advancement. And there are more than enough willing black johns (tricks) who are eager to follow the white man's lead ( read the audience of mostly liberal elitist and white folks) as they sing "Oh Happy Day, this is a great horror film. We get to see nigg*r brutalized, whipped and chained... and other blacks folks are loving it".

    Hey y'all, wake up and stop being willing pawns.

  • CareyCarey | October 17, 2013 6:33 PM

    PURE POPPYCOCK,RJE. Your analogy is not addressing the mindset and disposition of a fool, and why it's a fool's errand to pay them any mind.

    Did you understand my suggestion/opinion that "if you talk to a fool long enough, there will soon be two fools talking"? Well, if you know the definition of a fool, you know they do not participate in reasonable thinking, consequently, one should not expect a reasonable response from them. In short, you are not going to change the mind of a fool and those who are deeply entrenched in their positions on slavery.

    So in reference to this discussion, anyone who goes out of their ways to convince, explain and/or point out to a fool, the obvious atrocities commented against slaves, is wasting their time (it's a fool's errand).

    In reference to your analogy ( the holocaust) and Schindler's List, again, you've completely missed the point.

    Listen, going back to my concerns with the opinion that "brutality during slavery must be shown" and thus supporting McQueen's overindulgence in its most vicious form, I was simply questioning WHY? Schindler's List, on the other hand, was a deeper, richer, multilayered story that unlike McQueen's 12 years, did not rely on shock & awe to tell an Oscar worthy intriguing story.

    And no, I did not hate "12 Years", I just do not believe it's a great film. But tell me, since you're objecting to Armond's opinion, what did you find so fascinating about McQueen's "12 years a slave"? I mean, if you haven't seen the film, it's not "people jumping on the Armond White train" who has the/a "problem". You're giving off the impression of a ...

  • RJE | October 17, 2013 4:12 PM

    "what fool does not know slaves were brutalized?" The many fools who repeatedly say "Oh you people should get over slavery" or the people who want to change or lighten up the way slavery is portrayed in textbooks . Did you all yell this when Speilberg did SCHINDLER'S LIST? "Oh my what fool doesn't know the Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust?" Cmon people y'all are like Spike Lee and his issue with the word ni**** in DJANGO... Did you really think you could do a film about slavery with the word nig*** or violence towards the slaves? You people jumping on the Armond White train seem to want to want to be above the so called fray and want to hate 12 YEARS just for sake of hating it

  • CareyCarey | October 17, 2013 3:07 PM

    OH MY! Slow down my friend, I am not in charge of your emotions. If my style of commenting/rebuttal/discourse moves you to discomfort, that is not on me. Listen, we are in a debate of sorts, consequently we will disagree, so do not take it so personally. But if you do, again, that is not on me.

    I mean, think about it, as you said, you were looking for a different perspective and I gave you most passionate response. It's unreasonable for you to expect a cookie cutter diplomatic reply. Besides, I have absolutely no idea what parts of my comment you're referring to?

    You're saying I talked "down" to you? Where... show me - exactly- where that took place. You also said I belittled your opinion. Where... show me where that happened as well? Again BB, I CANNOT make you feel like an idiot. If my passionate no-hold-barred type of reply forced you to question your opinion, I understand your pushback. It's an uncomfortable feeling having one's words put into question. But again, I DO NOT control your emotions. So I'd suggest that you simply stand on your position (your opinion of the film) see where we disagree, and then analyze within your own heart to find what really got you so upset.

    In reference to my quote, it appears you may have misunderstood what I was trying to say. Granted, it's true, one can analyze anything they desire. However, in the context of this discussion, the devil's in the details. For example, many were saying that "slavery" was a horror story. Well, for some that's certainly true. However, I have copies of documents/letters in my possession that were written by the hand of a former slave who just happen to be my grandfather. They do not speak to a horror story. So when I speak of removing ourselves from the now, refraining from assuming what we would have done "back then", comparing our lives now to that of a slave, would tend to stop people from making bogus assumptions.

    Listen, I know it's not a popular opinion to suggest that the life of a slave was not all doom and gloom, but it's a fact that many slaves (over the more than 300 years of slavery in the United States) were NOT tortured, whipped and fu*ked by their master. So going back to my original objections and opinions of Steve McQueen's film, I agree with Armond White, this film was nothing but a horror show which played to the delight of particular "groups" of/in our present society. It was NOT the story of Solomon Northup.

    If you loved it, that's fine. But again, I'd suggest that you think first to understand before blowing off on me.

    Btw, if you cared to notice, many are agreeing with my position... so what does that tell YOU?

  • bb | October 17, 2013 2:03 PM

    CareyCarey,

    That will be the very LAST time I ask your opinion regarding a movie. Damn! Silly me, trying to get a different perspective, and I went to the wrong person. Won't happen again.

    " I am suggesting as you suggested that folks should stop projecting their present cultural moments and sensibilities upon the past." -- Um, sir. We're going to do that no matter what. And there's nothing wrong with comparing the present cultural moments with the sensibilities of the past. Nothing at all. There are things in the past that still show up today, and there is nothing wrong with analyzing that.

    You have a tendency to try and talk down to the commenters here, and it's just absolutely ridiculous and uncalled for. Our opinions on this movie (and others) are completely different and that's okay with me. What's not okay is for you to try to condescend and belittle my opinion. Nope. I know what I feel, and I won't be made an idiot for less than for feeling that way.

  • JMac | October 17, 2013 1:10 AM

    Good points here. Armond's complaints seem even more valid considering McQueen's frequently demonstrated taste for over the top explicitness (some may say vulgarity). Frankly, it would be easier for most people to watch a black slave endure horrific torture than to delve into his mentality and motives. Unfortunately, I have to agree with No Brainer's comment. If your goal is to show how terrible slavery is to spark empathy in white viewers [insert reference to Seewood's article here], it is almost a necessity to over-dramatize the violence. Otherwise, they just can't see why slavery is wrong - after all, you had work, food, a roof over your head, lol. For black viewers though, you run the risk of minimalizing a slave's experience if the movie deals with more nuanced issues than the standard whip- Tobey-into-submission aspect. If McQueen's intended audience was the black masses, the best way to make us squirm in our seats and cringe is to show the ordinary complacency many slaves adopted or developed for survival - and then reflect that complacency back on our current lives. All slave stories have a place and should be told in one form or another. However, American (and white) collective morality is not evolved to the point where it can handle the entire slave experience without guilt and without the outlet to squawk about its newly acquired sense of humanity. Black (American) folks collective mentality isn't ready to fully comprehend the similarities between a slave in the 1800s and a free person in the 2000s.... and the responsibility that stems from that realization.

  • CareyCarey | October 16, 2013 11:03 PM

    Exactly DJ,

    Folks are quick to say "Slavery was a horror story" but as you understand (and pointed out), the range of human experiences and emotions of that time are limitless. So as you suggested, it would behoove everyone to remove themselves from the "now" and then think first to understand.

    That reminds me, in another thread a commenter said chills went down her back upon seeing a black man (in the movie) hug his white slave master with glee on his face, when the white man came to take him home. Well, obviously that speaks to the mindset of someone (although he was a slave) who knew no other life, and thus, was comfortable in his existence. To illustrate/embellish that point, I highlighted the saying "there's no place like home". I am suggesting as you suggested that folks should stop projecting their present cultural moments and sensibilities upon the past. They should talk about something they know.

  • Um No | October 16, 2013 10:45 PM

    Tyler Perry makes this movie, you are hugging his nuts. So really this is about CrazyCarey stirring the pot and being the devil's advocate as always for attention. Predictable and no one is reading your dissertation of bullshit.

    NEXT.

  • DJ | October 16, 2013 10:38 PM

    This is some truth you just dished, here. The bigger point I think you were trying to make, too, is what I think AW was making --- it's easy to project our cultural moment and sensibility onto the past and extract our own (literal) visualizations. It's another task altogether of trying to really dig in and contextualize the range of human experience and emotion of that time that was framed by the obvious institutional brutality.

  • Erik W. | October 16, 2013 10:18 PMReply

    If slavery wasn't a "horror show" what the hell was it? This is about his ego as the angry critic. Nothing to do with the film. His act is getting tired.

  • SAX | October 16, 2013 10:12 PMReply

    Wait until someone depicts blacks in the twentieth century, decadent warts and all. Perhaps they'll film in the shithole known as Detroit? I think were ready.

  • Carl | October 16, 2013 10:04 PMReply

    How much you wanna bet this non-talented, bald headed attention whore posing as a film critic has a shrine of his movie reviews printed out in his house somewhere?

    God knows you will not find a director's reel of films he's made. Bitch ass probably couldn't shoot a good Rogaine commercial which he should be the spokesman for. lol

  • Michael | October 16, 2013 9:17 PMReply

    I remain in admiring awe of the fact that this part of the indieWIRE network refuses to bow down to the dictates of copyeditors, or, it seems, editors of any stripe.

  • M | October 16, 2013 9:11 PMReply

    "It proves the ahistorical ignorance of this era that 12 Years a Slave’s constant misery is excused as an acceptable version of the slave experience."

    There's the real irony, an educated black man downplaying the atrocities of the slave era. He probably thinks Uncle Tom's cabin is the definitive slave account, but Massa!

  • BluTopaz | October 16, 2013 9:08 PMReply

    "Depicting slavery as a horror show'

    That line puzzles me. Never mind the film, slavery was the mother of horror shows and nightmares for 4 centuries. What does White think it was, and how should it be depicted to please him?

    I will probably never see this movie (I can't watch anyone of any race brutalized so horribly their skin flays off). But in a strange way I am glad these images are put out there for anyone who can bear them, to accurately show this history. I just don't know what White was expecting.

  • Troy | October 17, 2013 11:45 AM

    How could anyone of us accurately portray history even if we were there? I think that's the role of the critic to remind those viewers that at some point the fanaticism must cease. Even documentaries are basically works of fiction. A camera lens cannot capture all of life and existence therefore nothing shown on film can ever be a "accurate portrayal/representation" (oxymoron). It is all fake the actors aren't channeling spirits they are guessing and so are the directors. Therefore Andy Warhol's you can create a technical masterpiece or just pull on the right heart and fall back in disgust as the public praises you for pulling wool over their eyes.

  • Troy | October 17, 2013 11:38 AM

    Should we be mythic ally afraid of enslavers or should we all band together and drive them from this earth. International statistics says it is more people enslaved now than ever. So what are we gonna do about it when the do called worst of our past us very much the antagonist of our present.

  • Nicole M. | October 16, 2013 9:07 PMReply

    Wait, did he actually ever read the autobiographical (aka REAL LIFE) book on which the movie is based??? Of course I've not yet seen the film, but the torture and punishment described in his review is exactly what I expect to see based on the book. And to sugar coat or whitewash it, as has been done to the rest of our history throughout time, would be a slap in the face and a true disservice to Mr. Northrop, and the countless others who shared his same fate. If that were the case, then I would rather them NOT tell the story at all.

    So I too am even more excited to see this film based on what I read above. And as far as I'm concerned, I think it's a real shame that Mr. White is basically criticizing this movie for being too real. Opinions such as his only serve to justify those who will dismiss the movie for being too brutal and unrealistic in the regards to the brutality that ACTUALLY OCCURRED during slavery. Have he ever even been to a black history museum or better yet somewhere like the blacks in wax museum in Baltimore? If so he would know that not every movie, especially those based on real life, will have a happy ending. And he would also understand that, as strong and resilient as black people have proven to be over time, living and witnessing brutality on a daily basis, and being treated no better or differently than any other 'animal' on the farm, with no end in sight but death itself, could potentially break the spirit of any man.

    It's an insult to our ancestors, and their experiences to dismiss the TRUTH of how they lived and what they endured as a 'shock fest'. This stuff really happened to people! People who eventually went on to give birth to him. And no, so what this is not EVERY slave experience. But sounds like he only wants to see those with the happy ending that gives home 'hope'. Well look around you, although we're certainly far from perfect as a people, for us to still be here, living, learning and growing after the hell our people endured - then there's your hope Mr. White. And again I have but one more thing to suggest:

    READ THE BOOK!!

  • Donella | October 17, 2013 6:22 PM

    Get off your lazy ass and read the book or see the film.

  • Troy | October 17, 2013 5:43 PM

    Asked questions and you answered me with a question. Does he fight? Does he just get beat and scream? What happens? I don't mind spoilers I read books and watch movies over and over again. In talking about the story nobody has said anything about what he does in the movie. What does he do?

  • Donella | October 17, 2013 12:15 PM

    "None of the pics I see have him doing anything. "

    You're judging a movie's merits by it's still photography? Okay.

  • Troy | October 17, 2013 11:35 AM

    Great so you read the book. So what does Mr. Northrop want and what drives him? Why does or doesn't he want to be where he is at? Is he heading toward something? In the recounting of his past does he connect it with his present when the story was written. Life and existence very in humane at times and therefore am driven to not only better my environment but everyone around me. Does he do something take action or is he a sailboat? None of the pics I see have him doing anything. Cool if that's the setup for me but if the black characters merely react when prodded by the whites they are little more than a living diorama for which their main purpose is to exist for entertainments sake. Which the film that more dreadful. It is like hiring a real life prostitute for Julia Roberts role in pretty woman. A slaves a slave whether he is Hollywood paid or merely standing where and working when told. In that case McQueen would have showed a lack of respect for his black actors not just the story. Surely we have to believe that everyone has drive and goals. Yet early morning public transportation in America shows me people who just exist for existence sake therefore the Panoptic story telling that seems to be McQueen style tells me more about himself than the stories he pics. He may be more voyeur than auteur.

  • M | October 16, 2013 10:15 PM

    Here, Here! the fact he can complacently refer to this sort of material as a 'Shock Fest' is a complete disservice to his own ancestry.

  • DJ | October 16, 2013 8:23 PMReply

    The implication that "12 Years..." is universally loved or "celebrated" by audiences is fallacious.
    Sorry, but the NYFF, Toronto and Telluride cinephiles isn't an accurate cross section of "audience." And maybe that's what undergirds White's criticisms here (and elsewhere when it comes to politically-charged, race and socially conscious cinema). If you've been to any of these fests where such films are framed and consumed, there's a great irony -- the audiences are mostly liberal elitist and white, and relish in the exercise of vicarious, self serving pity; when the curtains rise, it's the sentiment of "thank god I can go back to my life".

    So while White's reviews might seem contrarian, arbitrary in taste, and yes, pedantic at times, they do have a consistent thread: they critique the irony, cynicism, hypocrisy and lack of moral and humane vision that characterizes lots of what's "celebrated" on the fest circuit today.
    He's championed Charles Burnett and that's enough for me.

  • CC | October 17, 2013 12:03 AM

    "If you've been to any of these fests where such films are framed and consumed, there's a great irony -- the audiences are mostly liberal elitist and white, and relish in the exercise of vicarious, self serving pity; when the curtains rise, it's the sentiment of "thank god I can go back to my life"

    That's so true, good point. I've sat among those liberal elitist at the Telluride Film Festival. In fact, this weekend, at the Chicago International Film Festival, the audience around me and my lady were mostly white. And, there was a large section of reserved seats. I asked a guy why were those seat reserved and who were they being saved for. He said, "white folks". Not really, I'm kidding, but he did say patrons and special guests (read liberal white folks).

  • David S. | October 16, 2013 8:09 PMReply

    I would LOVE to see Armond White interview McQueen like Tambay did. Oh my God that would be explosive.

  • DJ KAM | October 16, 2013 7:49 PMReply

    So Armond was too much of a bitch to handle the violence that we all know happened during slavery. I hope he didn't cry to hard and the panties didn't crawl to far up hi no-talent having ass.

  • Carl | October 16, 2013 7:41 PMReply

    Can someone please tell me what film this wanna be blad headed prick actually LIKES? I'll wait...

    He trashes films for attention, like most critics. Frustrated wanna be filmmakers who's only outlet for the lack of talent is a keyboard and the jealousy floating in their empty, swollen heads.

  • Tat106 | October 17, 2013 2:00 PM

    @ Carl,

    You'd be surprised at what Armond likes. If you get a chance, read his book "Resistance." Off the top of my head, he loved the Maori drama, "Once Were Warriors." Flick like Eddie's "The Nutty Profesor," flicks like Wayne Kramer's "Running Scared," Spielberg flicks like "Munich" and most of Charles Burnett flicks like "The Glass Shield" and "Punk." He also enjoyed "Man of Steel."

    It's best that you look through his old reviews on City Arts and in New York Press. If you're really curious, try to find his old reviews in the now defunct, The City Sun.

  • LENLU | October 16, 2013 10:14 PM

    Exactly!

    I find a critic's review useless!

    Why?.... Because it's ALL about someone's personal opinion or taste! Like art, food or anything else that calls for "personal perspective"...

    This particular critic seems to be a "wanna-be" that "never-was"!

  • Watch list | October 16, 2013 9:14 PM

    ...says S&A's resident argry black prick and his fu*k buddy Joe Smoe.

    Hey Carl, Armond probably doesn't share your taste in films. Dick Riding Up Brokeback Mountain is not a favorite in the black community. And, "Throw My Meds From The Train and Self Medicate On My Own Boogers" is probably not on Armond's favorites list. I'm just sayin' all angry wannabe bald-head pricks do not think alike. Now take your thumb outta your ass and go shit down.

  • BluTopaz | October 16, 2013 8:59 PM

    I think he praised Soul Plane very highly.

  • DC_JOE | October 16, 2013 8:44 PM

    Thank You Carl for saying it......And I believe it too!! This blog is starting to get on my nerves!! Srry ya'll but it's true.

  • Stephen | October 16, 2013 7:22 PMReply

    Is there a "black movie" out there that has not come under such harsh scrutiny? Does it even exist? It seems to me, without fail, that every movie that comes out with black themes, it is taken through the ringer for not being black enough or true enough to the black experience. Tell me, what does that movie look like? I am starting to believe that no movie concerning black themes and issues will ever be free from scrutiny from the black media and other naysayers. I truly want to know what that movie looks like or will look like.
    I mean, art is subjective, and no creation is ever going to be universally accepted by all, and that's what makes it art. Hell, I am sure even Shakespeare had his critics in his day. Doesn't it seem excessive and unnecessary that black themed movies only are required to carry some untouchable height of "black purity?" Give me a break! With the bar being raised so high on black movies I doubt that we will ever see a movie that purists feel is a true representation of who we are. I enjoyed "The Butler," Roots, and other black themed movies. Am I missing something? Please, help me out here. I want to understand what type of movie constitutes a good black movie?

  • LENLU | October 16, 2013 10:25 PM

    Bravo Stephen!

    Well said! Well written!

    You are so on the money! Art is meant to be viewed, discussed and critiqued. But many times in the black community we scream and shout about being "wronged" in the representation!
    What we fail to see is that someone is TRYING to tell the story!

    There is no such thing as a story told perfectly - - History is NOT perfect...

  • Hess | October 16, 2013 7:44 PM

    Did you come into my brain and steal my thoughts. I totally agree, black themed movies are criticized excessively.

  • Troy | October 16, 2013 6:48 PMReply

    He makes me want to see this movie. He made me feel something. The average movie doesn't. Some need happy endings, robust story arcs, action, passion, to learn something visceral about the human condition, and others like to be scared. I want to watch this movie to see Northup's lack of drive as it is something that escapes my understanding in my friends and family. Why do you want to be here. If you fear death your world is smaller than you could imagine. His reviews remind me of Claude Mckays poetry.

  • Bforreal | October 16, 2013 8:25 PM

    So well said, Troy. I completely agree. I really want to see the film now, and I honestly appreciate and admire Armond's review. The passion in his writing is so sincere and refreshing, even when I don't agree with him.

  • pheadx | October 16, 2013 6:36 PMReply

    That's actually some legitimate criticism. This is what a film critic is supposed to do, even if you can disagree with him. Having only seen the trailer, I was indeed a bit puzzled by the non-stop praise for a film that seems to present slavery as a 12 year suffer show. I'm pretty sure I will really like the film, judging by McQueen's previous films, but the slavery in the film looks more like how Hollywood would define it, as an out-of-life torture experience. I feel that 12 YEARS will be a really important film because it will draw many people to the subject that wouldn't have dealt with it, otherwise. But from a film criticism point of view, we still need a film that portrays slavery as a human experience (not just a matyr experience) on the one side, and as the industry and "holocaust" it was in the overall historical perspective (and in some parts of the world, still is). Maybe a film with reduced sensibilities similar to SHAME and HUNGER would have dealt better with the subject?McQueen now has a shot to be a big Hollywood director, so maybe he went for a more commercial, and therefore reactionary tone. Suffering is not the only way to portrait such a complex issue.

  • pheadx | October 17, 2013 5:36 AM

    @MDL well, these times the community of film critics is really conformist, so I think that's what a critic is supposed to do. To be honest, having read a lot of White's reviews I must say that he usually has some valid points to say. I think it's harder these days to take the consensus driven film reviews, the Oscar campaigning and the whole list making seriously...

  • MDL | October 16, 2013 10:09 PM

    Yeah, all well and good but this is Armond White we are talking about! His whole schtick is to be the contrarian critic who takes the opposite opinion as all the big name critics. He's been doing it for years. In that light it is very tough to take his reviews seriously at all.

  • Tahir | October 16, 2013 6:32 PMReply

    Armond White is a hater and an intellectual waste of space.

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