Over the weekend, at a sold-out screening in Brixton, I watched Steve McQueen's much-lauded 12 Years a Slave. Having read a lot about the film beforehand, I knew that it was going to be hard to watch but nothing prepared me for the skin-rending violence I was about to see.
Many people have asked why it has taken so long for a film to address America's past.‘Many people’? Really? Is it a subject on the lips of many Brits, or just those Kele encounters at Brixton arts venues?
McQueen suggests that an explanation for this interest is in part the Obama effect. Henry Louis Gates, who was the historical consultant for 12 Years a Slave, believes it is as a result of black studies finally being on the agenda in traditionally white academic institutions.Ah, yes. The subject most favoured by the chin-stroking exhibitionists David Thompson so mercilessly skewers every week.
The size of the black middle class has increased in recent years, but the appeal of this film cannot solely be down to its reliance on black audiences. This is a film that seems to be resonating with people across racial divides. In Brixton it was a majority-white audience and I saw tears in the eyes of men and women as they left the cinema.Mmm, yes, but I venture to suggest to poor confused Kele that 'a majority-white audience in Brixton' might not be entirely representative of a majority-white audience in, say, Basildon or Brixham.
Here in Britain we have a chequered history in examining our own hand in similar atrocities. Our colonial past is not taught in GCSE or A-level history syllabuses, where the emphasis is always on the first and second world wars.Good point. We should discuss the Mau Mau atrocities more often.
Britain has a long history of multiculturalism, in part due to our colonial ties. Workers from the Commonwealth have come to this island and enriched life here. With the current emphasis that is being placed on immigration, perhaps if we could take an honest look backwards we wouldn't feel so threatened about what is to come.Oh, really, Kele, what is to come then?
Only in examining our past will it redefine what it means for us be British in the present day.Gosh, yes. Let's be more like the Scandinavians, let's agonise about racism and worry about the difficult subjects...