Why 12 Years a Slave Is More Than Just a Movie: the Message Everyone Needs to Hear


TWELVE YEARS A SLAVEAfter watching the film, 12 Years A Slave, I realized that a gruesome part of history has only become worse. The relevance of such a movie in today’s age of unrivaled human progress is distressing. Despite becoming illegal, the modern-day slave industry is thriving in every corner of the globe. It has a different name nowadays. We call it “human trafficking” and it remains, as it always was, a terrible blow to human dignity.

Slavery is an open wound which many believe was healed. But slavery isn’t even close to healing. It is bleeding profusely into every crack and crevice of our societies. Today, there are 30 million slaves. That number is higher now than at any other point in human history. There is  high profit and low risk in the exploitation of people—people who have much to live for, who have much to give, and who are worth far more than being used for commodity.

Every year, 2 million children are thrown into a commercial sex trade that robs them of everything. They grow up not knowing that they possess intrinsic worth. Others profit from their lives. This modern-day slavery results in more than physical injury and abuse. It takes away their power and their freedom to choose their own dreams for their lives. It is a direct violation of every person’s right to live with freedom and happiness.

This year, I’ve been asked to recommend a movie. Usually, I hesitate in deliberation. But this year, I have only one answer: 12 Years A Slave.  It is an exceptionally well-done movie, but that is not the reason why I recommend it. My friends shrug at me; they know slavery is bad. What else are they supposed to take from it? Others simply shrug off the idea of watching something so difficult. But this film is urgently relevant. This film speaks to an audience still tethered to a society that strips human worth to muscle and flesh, and all for profit.

This is a stark truth we cannot ignore. This is a vivid struggle that many unfortunately have to face. McQueen, the director, said, “I just hope 150 years from now our ambivalence will not allow another film-maker to make this film.” He dedicates his film not just to those who went through slavery in the past, but to those who are still victims of such a crime.

There is a genuine and beautiful message in 12 Years A Slave: people don’t just deserve the capacity to survive, but to live. We must make a cultural change that urges us to do something, anything, and everything to end human trafficking. There must be more than conversation; there must be an outcry to forever end this persisting crime authored by and against humanity. We must permanently close the festering  and open wound of slavery.

 By Isabel Hernandez, a regional intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office

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