compassion and forgiveness

Why Everyone Needs to See 12 Years a Slave

I'm a health and transformation coach. So why am I writing a movie review? Well, it's not a movie review. It's life advice.

I highly, highly recommend you make time to bring a friend, partner or family member to see Steve McQueen's latest film, 12 Years a Slave. I'll tell you why.

I was raised to know very little about slavery as it actually happened. I only knew the little I learned in school, which was hardly anything at all. When I began reading more books to prepare lessons as an 8th grade school teacher, my eyes were really opened. Now that I knew more, I considered it my duty to talk about it.

I often read the novel Roots, by Alex Haley, aloud to my students. They sat on the edge of their seats, "this is so real. It's so sad," they said. When they connected to the suffering of the characters, they were learning, really learning, in ways their carefully edited textbooks could never teach.


I've seen many movies and read many books about slavery. None of them compare to 12 Years a Slave, based on the true life story of a free New York citizen named Solomon Northup who was kidnapped and sold into slavery for 12 years. While this was the fate of so many people, he is only one of a few people to be returned to freedom.




This film was excellent. I could expound about the cinematography or the actor's performances, the set design, the costumes or the brilliant screenplay. But I won't, because that intellectualizes the experience. It was excellent because it told the truth in ways Americans, including me, need to see with their own eyes if we are ever to heal as a nation.



From the opening scenes, I knew I was in for a spiritual journey. I was going to put my life worries and concerns to the side and be present to the stories of human beings who suffered tremendous terrors and injustices. For 2 hours and 15 minutes, I was bearing witness to my country's history and honoring the truths, however ugly, of the past. I was going to sit with my discomfort, grief and all the other feelings that come up when faced with the truth.

This, I believe, is the path to transformation. When we repress pain and avoid grief, true healing never happens. We are inauthentically 'dealing' with life. When we confront and accept what is with humility, compassion and forgiveness, we heal and evolve.

The more we do this as individuals, the more we can do it collectively as human beings.

I felt such awesome respect for the actors who portrayed the devastating lives of their characters with brutal honesty, profound skill and unrelenting passion. I felt grateful for the director who has provided us with a true masterpiece of cinema and art to capture and create what books could never evoke. It felt like a prayer--a prayer to the many who perished during this period of history. This prayer said, "we see you, we honor you, we remember."

While most movies are full of fantasy and sensationalized depictions of reality and suspended belief, this film was not. It was frame after frame of reality as it was lived.

During the most graphic and painful scenes, I kept my eyes glued to the screen. I wanted to honor the actors for their hard work, their own suffering and the suffering of those they represented. I sat in my seat, counting my blessings and privileges, and wondering how, in 2013, many Americans continue to live as though this history didn't happen and endure into our present.

In our lives, there are many things that we don't know that we don't even know, about our own selves and the lives of others. As painful as the awareness may be, ignorance is no escape. Awareness can bring reverence, respect and a shared sense of humanity. When I began to know more, only then I could initiate the process of forgiveness from a place of real understanding.

Everyone should see this film to dig deep into your own suffering and share in the suffering of others.

Find the connections. Experience authenticity and healing.

That is where you will find true love.


Have you seen this film? What was your response? What did you learn about yourself or this piece of our nation's history that you didn't know before and what will you do with that new knowledge?