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By Scott Greer
Reviewers are gushing with praise for a new movie, “12 Years A Slave,” saying it “could do for slavery what seven-time Oscar-winner ‘Schindler’s List’ did for the Holocaust.”
But some authors who have investigated and written about such issues say they worry it could heat up racial tensions.
Jack Cashill, author of “If I Had a Son: Race, Guns, and the Railroading of George Zimmerman,” about the case that inflamed racial tensions across the U.S., believes the film is just one of many intended to maintain the status quo.
“These kind of movies are designed to sustain blacks in a permanent state of victimization,” Cashill said. “It really started big time with ‘Roots’ in the 1970s. When ‘Roots’ got busted for plagiarizing from another novel and the author treated false information as fact, the mainstream media didn’t want to know it, it was too useful a story.”
Cashill said that even when media are confronted with the facts,” they simply refuse to know them because they want to perpetuate this narrative, to reinforce this narrative, to sustain this narrative and for what end that defies belief.”
“Once you start piling on these depictions without some sort of an alternative narrative, then blacks become paranoid and begin to think the whole history of the country is wrapped up in these kind of terms,” Cashill explained.
The new movie graphically depicts the brutality of slavery in the antebellum South. It’s the story of Solomon Northrup, who published a book in 1853 about being born free but tricked and taken by unscrupulous profiteers back into slavery.
It took 12 years for the crime to be uncovered and Northrup restored to freedom.
“The film was so powerful it caused some critics to walk out, and left others in tears,” the London Daily Mail reported. “When it ended, the auditorium was deathly quiet before the audience erupted into a standing ovation.”
“12 Years a Slave” is considered an Oscar frontrunner.
Several scenes in the movie are very violent and could elicit strong, emotional reactions from viewers. One scene, as detailed by the Daily Mail, shows a young, female slave being beaten within an inch of her life and completely humiliated after she visited the neighbor’s plantation to borrow soap.
The article worries such harsh visual representations of slavery, which continues to exist worldwide, although not in the same open way in the United States, could ignite racial tension and potentially lead to violence.
Cashill, an award-winning journalist, compared the movie to another, “Frutivale Station,” that depicted a cop accidentally killing a young black man.
“There’s no doubt the filmmakers, at the release of the movie, were trying to capitalize on that sensation, the sensation that young black men are prey to the predatory instincts of white cops or wannabe cops like George Zimmerman,” Cashill stated.
“The whole point of the movie was to provoke the audience into racial antagonism,” he said.
Cashill said he would be hesitant to see the movie.
“I’d be reluctant to go see it out of the fear of violent responses to it,” Cashill said.
Colin Flaherty, author of “White Girl Bleed a Lot: The Return of Racial Violence to America and How the Media Ignore It,” agreed with Cashill’s assertion that the film presents a lopsided view of race relations in America.
“Hollywood has a relentless and very singular view on racial relations. Their point of view is that racism is everywhere and it is permanent, and this is a point of view that is repeated in every major Hollywood movie about race. ‘Django Unchained’ and ‘The Butler’ are just the latest examples of this mindset,” Flaherty said.
Flaherty thinks that historical films, such as ’12 Years A Slave,’ never simply try to paint a picture of the past but aim to make a statement about the present as well.
“This film wants to bring insights from the past into the present, and it’s trying to say that the treatment of black people by white people is slave-like, horrific and dehumanizing,” he said.
“What they learn from films like this is that black people are permanent victims and that whites are permanent racists.”
However, Flaherty does not believe that a single movie would set off a wave of racial violence in the country.
Instead, he believes there is already a wave of racial violence sweeping the nation that the media has largely ignored.
Flaherty said “there’s a lot more of it going on right now than anybody knows.”
“And who knows what touches it off, other than they can simply do it?”
Watch Cashill explaining “If I Had a Son”: