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Too Tough To Watch? The 10 Lines From Armond White's '12 Years A Slave' Review That Make The Case

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist October 16, 2013 at 2:49PM

While the accolades are rolling in for "12 Years A Slave," can Fox Searchlight convince awards season voters to sit through the brutal, hard-to-watch drama? "I've read all about the Civil War and slavery, I don't need to see a movie repeating what I already know," one voter told the LA Times (which makes you realize how arbitrary this whole awards season can be and the type of people who get to cast a ballot), who also reported that the first screening for Academy members was hardly full (approximately 600 people for the 1000 seat venue; by comparison, "Gravity" had people being turned away). But has Armond White just made the case that this movie is too awful to endure?
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12 Years A Slave

While the accolades are rolling in for "12 Years A Slave," can Fox Searchlight convince awards season voters to sit through the brutal, hard-to-watch drama? "I've read all about the Civil War and slavery, I don't need to see a movie repeating what I already know," one voter told the LA Times (which makes you realize how arbitrary this whole awards season can be and the type of people who get to cast a ballot), who also reported that the first screening for Academy members was hardly full (approximately 600 people for the 1000 seat venue; by comparison, "Gravity" had people being turned away). But has Armond White just made the case that this movie is too awful to endure?

Granted, Armond White taking a stance against a movie that is near universally acclaimed is hardly a surprise. Nor is his tendency to delve into verbose hyperbole shocking either. But for the few looking to deem "12 Years A Slave" as an exercise in unflinching, harrowing sadism and nothing more, you have a champion in White (even if he ventures off into the ridiculous from time to time). You can read his whole review right here, but here are ten lines that will certain give you pause. (And here's our review as a counterweight). And before you dive in, remember, this is the same guy who said "Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance" and "Taken 2" were better than "Zero Dark Thirty."

1. "Depicting slavery as a horror show, McQueen has made the most unpleasant American movie since William Friedkin’s 1973 The Exorcist. That’s right, 12 Years a Slave belongs to the torture porn genre with Hostel, The Human Centipede and the Saw franchise..."

2. "This is less a drama than an inhumane analysis—like the cross-sectional cut-up of a horse in Damien Hirst’s infamous 1996 museum installation “Some Comfort Gained From the Acceptance of the Inherent Lies in Everything.” (click here to see Hirst's work).

3. "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.' "

4. "The only conversation this film inspires would contain howls of discomfort."

5. "...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. But, as with The Exorcist, there is no victory in filmmaking this merciless. 

6. "McQueen’s “sympathy” lacks appropriate disgust and outrage but basks in repulsion and pity–including close-up wounds and oblivion...Nothing in The Exorcist was more flagrantly sadistic."

7. "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."

8. "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."

9. "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. McQueen, Ridley and Gates’ cast of existential victims won’t do. Northup-renamed-Platt and especially the weeping mother Liza (Adepero Oduye) and multiply-abused Patsey (Lupita Nyong‘o), are human whipping posts–beaten, humiliated, raped for our delectation just like Hirst’s cut-up equine. Hirst knew his culture: Some will no doubt take comfort from McQueen’s inherently warped, dishonest, insensitive fiction."

10. "The story in 12 Years a Slave didn’t need to be filmed this way and I wish I never saw it."

This article is related to: 12 Years a Slave


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