Live From Channel Zero with Ericka Blount Danois for November 1, 2013

This week’s new edition of Live From Channel Zero with Ericka Blount Danois focused on the films 12 Years a Slave, Django and Fruitvale Station.


  1. Another perspective on 12 Years is the emphasis on class *within* the black experience of the time. Northrup, clearly proud of his bougie status and “acceptance” in white society, repudiated his former privilege to become an abolitionist and activist. The Alfre Woodard character, Mistress Shaw, adds gender to that class dimension, with a current of defiance behind the sellout. A fearless examination of race, class and gender in the same film–clearly no American could have made this movie (McQueen is African-Irish).

    McQueen’s other films “Hunger,” about Bobby Sands and the Irish Republican Army hunger strikers and “Shame,” about a superhigh status white guy hollowed out by his hyperwhite collar job, are both explorations of what it means to be a human being in unfreedom–how can you be free when you are constrained in a totality of unfreedom. 12 Years is clearly an extension of that theme.

    Whenever you depict the horrors of genocide you risk drifting into torture pornography and ultimately reinforcing the oppressor’s framework. 12 Years managed to avoid this trap thanks to the subtlety of performance and to the constant stress on the choices that could or could not be made by the characters. There were always choices, never good ones, but choices well defended by the people who made them and which point to individual agency within the totality of oppression. This is what gives the film an emancipatory arc.

    Those choices are emphasized for the white people in the film also, no free passes given for the actions of whites as victims of their time or whatever. Every character is offered for judgement by the same criteria.

    I saw 12 years in a blockbuster style cinema, and the crowd was I believe entirely black. Spontaneous applause when McQueen’s name appeared. After the showing there was silence, complete silence, which extended all the way to the restrooms, which as usual were packed but silent. It was like a funeral. A silent ladies’ room full of black women in a movie theatre?? This was very deeply moving to me because it shows how ordinary people *get* this movie in a way that we need to support and bring out.

    I don’t think McQueen needed Brad Pitt. His other two films were distributed internationally. The presence of a superstar, whose character had to *find* honor, another choice, helped put it in the blockbuster zone, however, and I’m grateful for that. Brad Pitt probably isn’t capable of a restrained performance, but McQueen gives his personality and his performance the same weight as all the others in the film.

    If I had my way, every person in the US would see this film, it’s that good, and that necessary.

    Peace to all.

  2. Walter, yes, when i see it ill probably say something about it. But let me for now say that, films are separate and autonomous products. So the fact that many African people were involved in writing the initial book or having lived the initial experiences says nothing about whether the film made ostensibly about those originals is itself African or told from the perspective of Black people. Scripts are often re-written or the film is shot, directed, edited, etc. from often White, and affluent, male perspectives. And finally, you know i love Dr. Carr, but here we would disagree. Films dont start conversations, they end them – often “definitively.”

  3. Sister Danois incorrectly stated that Northup was born a slave, he was a free born in Saratoga Springs, New York. Sister Danois further stated in her opinion, the movie derived from a white perspective. John Ridley, an Afrikan, wrote the screen play,based from Northup’s book. The film director, Steve McQuen also Afrikan. That being said, McQueen & Ridley might not have an Afrikan centered ideology. The sister also stated the film lacked in rebelliousness. Not true. In one scene Northup took the bullwhip away from the overseer & beat him in self defense . The Yale trained Lupita Nyong’o portrayal of Patsy, was one for the ages. The role of Patsy was defiant & rebellious. No mention was made of the extraordinary performances of Chewitel Ejiofor & Sister Nyong’o.Ever mindful of Dr. Khalid Abdul Mohammed statement,”Whatever the white man is for we have to be against.” The media is giving this film strong reviews. Dr. Ball, I agreed with your analysis of Fruitvale, I’m looking forward to your comments on 12 Years. It goes without saying that most Afrikans know very little of the Maafa, this film as Dr. Gregg Carr said on CNN might provoke conversation.

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