Is ’12 Years’ Too Tough to Watch? Voters Need to Grow Up and Just See It

12 years a slave

The makers of “12 Years a Slave” are in town this week, in advance of its Oct. 18 bow. And the Internet is buzzing with tales of Sunday’s partially-empty screening at the Academy and the hand-wringing of industry folk (anonymous, of course) who fret that voters might be turned off by its intensity.

A piece of friendly advice to those who might be hesitating, from the biggest wuss West of the Mississippi: Snap out of it!

There are four minutes, in the last half-hour, during which it’s worth hiding your eyes. But that scene is no worse than stuff on “Walking Dead,” “Criminal Minds,” “American Horror Story” or a lot of other shows on TV.

So why the bad rap for the Steve McQueen-directed film?

First theory:  All those slaves in “Gone With the Wind” seemed so happy, “12 Years” is considered tough because it’s an eye-opener.

Second theory: Awards execs like to badmouth rivals’ films and this one had a target on its back the minute it was declared an Oscar front-runner. (Look out, “Gravity,” your turn is next!)

Some films are tough to watch: “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” And yet awards voters seemed able to cope with them. So, c’mon, pilgrims, get with the program.

The film’s awards advantages: The Searchlight film is a likely contender for pic, director, script, actor, supporting actress, supporting actor, and all below the line work.

Awards challenges: Getting folks to see it. Whether you’re a dating couple at the multiplex or a kudos voter, the title “12 Years a Slave” does not scream out “fun evening!” So Searchlight needs to underline the positive scenes and emotions of the film.

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  1. Pearl Duncan says:

    Great suggestion, but right now it is a challenge to emphasize the positive aspects of the film when reviews of the positive aspects of the film and the 1853 book are being turned down by editors who line up with other publications to call the film “brutal.” I reviewed the movie, which I saw in preview at the New York Film Festival, after writing an article about the prevalence of kidnapping of free people in colonial New York, and was surprised to see that the publication, which carried my articles in the past, did not run the leading-up-to-the-preview article or the review of the movie and the book. In my reviews, I emphasize how much Solomon Northup, the heroic character in the story and the other enslaved people not only describe their own experiences, but also reflect on survival, escape, freedom and liberty. This is a theme that is hard to discuss, but it is in the movie and the memoir.

    The challenge then is not only to see the film, but skip the reviews of how brutal it hard to watch it is, and see it and focus on the humanity and the instincts of survival of characters in this story. It may take several films to do that, when it comes to this era, events and characters in American history, and this film has laid down the gauntlet. I am looking for a new publication to do my reviews. Strength, skill and perseverance are also themes in the story.

  2. CitizenTM says:

    Do we even need to spell the name of that expert Oscar campaigner, who has a rival film in the mix, that is a crowd pleaser and who will do anything to bad mouth competition? From the longest standing ovation at TIFF to snub by A ademy in 4 weeks. Only one guy can achieve that …

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