I’ve unfortunately disappeared the last two months. I haven’t seen a lot of new films, but I also haven’t engaged in writing pieces altogether. I’ve especially slipped in my monthly segment “Shot of the Month.” It’s been almost a year since I submitted my last shot selection, so this has been due for a long time now.
The resurrection of my monthly piece begins with Steve McQueen’s gut wrenching 12 Years a Slave. There are hundreds of tragic, indelible shots in McQueen’s film that the human eye needs to witness, but there is one image in particular that encapsulates the plantation experience. The shot emanates from a scene where Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is lynched. If the act alone isn’t disgusting enough, he is strung up in such a way that the tips of his toes graze the ground. Watching Solomon maneuver his feet as a means of staving off strangulation is excruciating, but the true anguish comes from his environment.
As Solomon battles gravity and a softening ground, a multitude of people, the oppressed and their oppressors, walk by without acknowledging Solomon’s battle with injustice. It’s a disheartening reminder of the slave and plantation system, where the threat of violent repercussion prevented disobedience or interference from all involved. Even more to the point, it’s a vivid reminder of how lynching and violent acts against minorities was merely a part of the American experience, so much so that a man struggling to breathe shifts to the background. The composition, the lighting and use of color all amplify this notion as Solomon becomes an extension of his landscape, a victim to a system of racism and ignorance. Ironically, not much has changed since.
Cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt
Director: Steve McQueen