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Another S & A Reader Gives Their Take On ‘Twelve Years A Slave’ & Audience Response To It

Another S & A Reader Gives Their Take On 'Twelve Years A Slave' & Audience Response To It

And some of you aren’t going to be happy….

I have to be honest and admit that you guys mystify at times. The reactions from S & A readers to certain pieces sometimes surprises. It doesn’t go the way one would expect. You’re a wacky bunch. (And I say that with love, of course)

Take for example, the recent piece in which a regular reader told us of their reaction, and those of the some of the audience, to a test screening of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A SlaveHERE.

Some of you got quite upset and even accused the reader of making it up. Far from the case, there was an actual test screening (actually two in the area), and I know exactly the theater where the screening was held that the reader was in. In fact there have been several across the country.

However, several of you couldn’t believe that there would be black people who didn’t like a film about slavery. Why wouldn’t you believe that?  

It all goes back to my recent piece about whether there is an audience for a serious, honest film about slavery to which I said there isn’t and I stand by that.

But once again, as I stated in my piece, don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to see McQueen’s film and I am so glad that it got made. And, as I also said, I truly hope that I am completely wrong and the film is a success at the box office.

 But let’s face it, the film has a tough road to hoe, and there’s going to be A LOT of resistance by people to see it. Lets be honest here, folks.

So with that, here is an e-mail that I personally received from another loyal S& A reader, who attended a test preview of the film in another city, and, this time, with a predominantly black audience, and the results were… well you can read for yourself below, completely unedited.

Though he did tell me that he was “upset that the audience was immature to the narrative”.

But he starts off by answering my question – if moviegoers are ready for an honest realistic film about slavery…


There is not.

This past Tuesday, I saw a sneak preview of “12 Years A Slave”, and it was with a majority black audience. I was so disgusted at the commentary and the fact that people were laughing at some parts.

Now, I’m not an overly serious person when it comes to some films about slavery. There are some things you have to take with a grain of salt, but being a devoted fan of McQueen’s work, I was prepared for it to be hurt.

The film was so heavy and, not traumatizing, but frustrating — in a good way. And that’s how you know he is doing his job, and doing it damn well. Particularly given the nature of the narrative, you would think that there would be some empathy amongst the audience. There was none. It ruined the film for me and it also hurt me. This is a film for the ages, to the point where this is a film that should be shown to classrooms all around the nation to truly expose the horrors of slavery. Roots was heavy, but it does make the aforementioned look — well, I will just say it brings a new perspective to slavery.

Now, I loved Django Unchained, and I appreciate how Tarantino used his talent as an auteur to create such a distinguishing piece of cinema. However, it is in no way a replacement or commentary of history. Not sure if you noticed, but a lot of those slaves had free time on their hands. Playing on swings? Seriously? I was confused. And the one who obviously had a perm, but they tried to make it look “natural” and failed?

There was one genius at the screening that truly believed Django Unchained was a true story. Yes, maybe there were individuals like Django that existed, but that’s not how it was marketed, that’s not how it was sold, and as far as I’m aware, that is not true. The fact that they were comparing the two movies worried me. I hope to God she wasn’t an educator. And if she is, the future generations are in big trouble.

Anyway, I do think 12 Years…if released at the proper time, will do well. It’s a solid film with brilliant performances. Chiwetel (Ejiofor) was just amazing beyond comprehension, as was (Michael) Fassbender. They play incredibly well off of each other.

With that, like I said, I completely agree with you on the fact that audiences, and black audiences in particular, are not ready to see this film. It saddens me to no end that this is a reality. Yes, it is unfortunate that sometimes we are only relegated to this type of story in order to have some talent on the screen and behind the scenes. However, this is a story that needed to be told. And McQueen was the only person that could do it. For that effort, he deserves to have this be a box office success. I hope it works in his favor.

This Article is related to: Reviews



A "serious, honest film" directed by Steve McQueen is a contradiction in terms, and anyone who proclaims themselves a "devoted fan" of this huckster is not to be taken seriously either. Film will bomb and be forgotten by Oscar season, move on.


So one (or even a few) people claim people aren't ready for a "serious film" about slavery and somehow those comments/opinions are taken as gospel? How bizarre in a country of roughly 350 million people. Of course, there will be some, probably many, people who ready for such a film and many who aren't but this is just a bizarre generalization that I can't take any of it seriously.

I will wait to see the film myself – which, I will state here and now, I am fully prepared and ready to see. Everyone, I expect, will see the film through their own personal prism and perspective about this terrible part of our country's history as well as their own current day attitudes, etc.

I am just still sitting here scratching my head at the thought that you would take one person's comment as being somehow representative of the potential audience for this film.


AO and Shantel both hit the nail on the head. I'm sorry that Tambay's source had an unfortunate moviegoing experience, but whoever is associated with the film that set up this screening, clearly didn't "screen" the audience. First, as AO pointed out, studio marketers NEVER know who, how or where to market movies with casts featuring blacks in lead roles. And, as he said, one-size-fits all marketing no longer flies in the overly-media-saturated-internet world that we live in. All Hollywood marketers should be required to take a seminar with Seth Godin, and if they refuse, they should be fired. Second, as Shantel pointed out, we can no longer view the black community as a monolith when it comes to understanding people's entertainment choices. And McQueen's movie is the type of movie that well educated, indie-movie-lovin', global-travelling, readers of this website and The Atlantic Monthly are going to see. People who WANT to be challenged, enlightened and reflective of history. It's NOT going to interest many in the TP "For Better or For Worse" crowd. And, clearly, Tambay's source was hanging with the latter, not the former. And, realistically speaking, in our community the latter, unfortunately, outnumber the former. So while I wish Mr. McQueen all the success in the world and am looking forward to his movie, I don't expect it to be No. 1 on it's first weekend like "Madea's Easter Egg Hunt at Augusta Pines."


In other news. Tarantino just won an Oscar for his mega hit Django. Spike must be pissed.


Going to disagree with you on McQueen being the only guy who could do this. Slavery was/is an American institution, particularly as it pertains to America (as opposed to Europe, obviously). Mr. McQueen is NOT American, and therefore, tonally, there will be beats he will miss, or perhaps gloss over, no matter the high level of his intelligence or depth of his sensitivity. I will, however, support this film and Mr. McQueen's endeavor.


Why is the debate centered on the Black audience and whether or not it has the intellectualism or cultural commitment to see 12 Years? If this film is a good film, and it sounds like it is, Black people will support it. The Black audience in large and diverse. There is no one type of film Black folks will or will not support.

The real issue is how the film is marketed, to whom and by whom. Like the subject matter of films, Hollywood has a formula for marketing films that works for its mainstream fare. It doesn't necessarily work for more substantive films, regardless of the target audience.

Too often a film and/or its audience is blamed for poor box-office performance when the failure should lay on the shoulders of the people doing the film's marketing. I have spoken to too many people marketing/distributing Black films that don't have a clue when it comes to the Black community in general and Black audiences in particular. The reality is that some of the people who market and distribute Black films couldn't sell a barbecue sliced pork sandwich in Watts let alone vegan fried "chicken"! Tending to lack creativity and be too narrowly focused, the one size fits all marketing strategy continues to apply to the marketing of Black films to Black audiences… an ad in a couple of Black magazines and a few commercials on BET. Nothing catches the eye and more importantly the attention. The target audience won't know what the film is about; no trusted source will recommend the film. Even if the audience knows about the film, there isn't anything that compels the audience to spend it's dollars or take the time to actually go to see the film.

I know there probably won't be a large marketing budget to get the word out about this film. (Django, Unchained was everywhere) But that's a reason, not to waste a single dollar on ineffective marketing. Black people are a huge and diverse audience but too often, we are just unaware of the better quality films with Black subject-matter. If such films were brought to our attention and marketed as a "must see" in the same way as mainstream films, they would have greater box-office success.

So let's give Black folks a break and stop the mindless and endless attack on our intellect, interests and consciousness. All of that is stereotyping and just wrong-minded.


I don't think that the issue is whether or not audiences are ready for a serious film about slavery. Most Americans, and I would also guess that most humans, do not study much history, much less histories that expose the fundamental "sins" of their nation. I think the conversation should be more about how will this film help progress our understanding of slavery. "Beloved" and "The Known World" are a couple of literary examples to show how our understanding has progressed. No, they did not reach all 300 million Americans but what work of art has or will? They have been acknowledged a parts of an American canon though and are taught in high schools, colleges, and universities. Therefore they will have a long lasting impact throughout generations. That is what I will be looking for in the after effects of this film.


MY MY MY… what tangled webs we weave. So now we have Sergio, in affect, totting his own horn.

Out of all the emails that S&A may have received, he highlights one that supports his "stand by my man" position that audiences are not ready for a serious, honest film about slavery. WELL WELL WELL… but lets look at what evil lurks in the heart of our new reader-submitted opinion.

First, what city, neighborhood and theater was this screening shown? More importantly, was this brotha born and raised in the brier patch? I am suggesting that it comes as no surprise (to me) that black folks in black theaters, talk to the screen and laugh at inappropriate times. So maybe, just maybe, our brotha is from another motha? So his nose might have been turned up long before the movie ended. Which leads me to believe his view is highly slanted. I mean, based on his professed love of everythang Steve McQueen, it's highly doubtful that he's an "average black movie goer". Certainly it's safe to say the average black person has not seen one of McQueen's films.

Anyway, what the hell constitutes an honest film about slavery? For some strange reasons that I cannot understand, our new visitor seems to believe slaves never had free time and NEVER EVER could be caught dead playing on swings. That ideology is simply NOT TRUE. So maybe Sergio and his new pigeon believes that a "true" slavery story is only "true" if slaves never smile and the story centers on brutal and vile acts… all day long… all night long, 24/7?

That reminds me, I was taken aback when Sergio said "several of you couldn't believe that there would be black people who didn't like a film about slavery."

What?! Listen, if I am not mistaken, those who may have differed with your position, were basically disagreeing with your reasoning of why some blacks may not want to see a film about slavery. You said it had everything to do with an alleged psychological damage that we've yet to heal from. And that's complete nonsense. NO-NO Mr. Sergio, don't even try it. It's too late to flip the script, now.

Hell, as I implied in your other post, is there something "wrong" about black folks who have no desire to see films on slavery? Will our black cards be in jeopardy of being pulled if we have no desire to see a film on subjects we know more than enough about?

Btw, wasn't it you Mr. Sergio, who said "As I always say, people go see a film, because they WANT to, not because they're OBLIGATED to, and that's not going to change."

But noooooo, you and your Mr Hardy Har Har (Lippy The Lion's buddy) are up in here inferring that blacks who have no desire to see 'true" slave films are some type of weak lemmings and uneducated retards.

In short, most people view movies as a source of entertainment, not a classroom. So why would anyone WANT to see a 'true" story on Slavery. I'm just saying…


It's too bad that this viewer's screening was ruined by an immature audience – I can even begin to imagine why immature people would even want to see this film – oh yea, it was free (roll eyes). In any event, this black female cannot wait to see '12 Years' for all it's rawness and honesty. Got to continue to support Steve McQueen's work!


This is a phenomenal story at its core, and it needed to be told. I would hope that this movie can give people insight of "true" southern slavery expressed through excellent actors.


Tambay is right. How can you use the success of Django vs. 12 Years as an argument for how much intellectualism black people will tolerate? One is clearly made to be a blockbuster and the other is made for the art house crowd. And there are plenty of black folk in the latter who will rush to see this film.

I'm really not digging all the pretention and downright self-loathing this discussion is stirring up. Y'all act like black people are the only people in the world who go out in numbers for mainstream, formulaic Hollywood films. Or like McQueen is the most accessible story-teller ever. The average movie-goer ain't going to be diggin his work, black or not, that is a fact.


I saw it. I loved it. (I loved D'jango as well) This ain't D'Jango AT ALL.
If black folk don't like this, its official, we don't know what we want!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!(as if it wasn't official already)


1. Don't hold a mirror up to Black folks they just don't want to see reality 2. They will support non intellectual films but please don't get deep cause they will stay away (example THE GREAT DEBATERS) 3. They will support Lil Wayne, Beyonce, but damn sure will not support Angela Davis. 4. The mere fact that some one thought DJANGO was a true story tells you right there . 5 Give Black folk Tyler Perry films over and over again until there is Tyler Perry film that shows him with super powers . 6. For Black audiences repeat # 5 7. Don't raise cinema to the level of the French and hope they will appreciate it.

Now of course we are talking about a small cross sampling of Black folks but enough to make up or appear in box office points or tabulations. For example then Ava DuVernay's film Middle Of Nowhere should have been a huge box office smash if it was supported by a Black audience alone who were there intellectually to understand the true point of the film.

12 Years A Slave will do well not huge numbers but it will go down it appears in the pantheon of distinguished artistic endeavors like Daughters Of The Dust or SANKOFA


Black people suck.


I was going to write a separate post on this, but I'll just summarize myself here and say that, of course there's a black audience for the film! There are a lot of us who want to and will see it. Is it a large percentage of the black audience? No, it's certainly not. But there IS an audience – a black audience – that will watch and appreciate 'Twelve Years A Slave." We don't all think alike.

I think the question to ask instead is whether there's a large enough black audience to make the film a blockbuster hit like, say, "Django," since that's the film folks keep using for comparison, even though the 2 aren't similar. Will the same audience that rushed to see and praised "Django," do the same with McQueen's film? A percentage of them will, and a percentage of those who stayed away from 'Django' will see it as well.

'Twelve Years A Slave' doesn't have to make a gazillion dollars, because its listed budget is $20 million. The budget for 'Django' was $100 million, so it absolutely needed to reach as wide an audience as possible, to make back that money and then some, for profit.

I think McQueen's film will attract the audience that's suitable for it, and it'll be a diverse audience. And I think it'll do well enough to be considered a success, and, on top of that, it'll probably be nominated for an award or two in some categories at the various awards shows. There hasn't been a McQueen film yet that hasn't been almost universally critically-praised.

Don't forget, despite the slave narrative, Michael Fassbender is still a draw; Brad Pitt is still a draw; Chiwetel has his fan-base, even though he's not a star, but this is his first real starring role. And there are enough respected character actors scattered throughout the film that, collectively, they'll draw some people.

It all depends on who picks it up to distribute and how they market and release it. So Brad Pitt and company need to be very choosy with what distributor they go with.

It's also worth noting that very few Holocaust movies (serious or not) actually made a bunch of money. Only one of them – another Tarantino film, "Inglorious Basterds" – was what you'd call a blockbuster, hitting all 4 quadrants in the mainstream. But the vast majority haven't exactly drawn huge crowds. Even "The Pianist" which was heavily-praised and well-marketed, grossed just over $30 million (domestic), on a $35 million budget. It made most of its money overseas, which will likely be the same for McQueen's film, and that's fine; I'm just making comparisons.

'Schindler's List' is really the only other Holocaust movie that did well at the box office, although it still didn't even break the $100 million mark.

The difference here is that, while serious Holocaust movies are continuously produced and released every year (whether or not audiences flock to them, or they make a profit), the same isn't happening for slave narrative films. There just isn't the same kind of commitment.

And producers of Holocaust movies probably aren't wondering, nor do they care, whether there's a large enough Jewish audience to sustain all the films they continue making. They just keep making them no matter what, because they think they're important and should be made.

But, yes, there is an audience for "12 Years A Slave." Is it a huge audience that's going to make it a box office blockbuster? No. But it doesn't need an audience that large anyway. It'll be fine… I'm not worried.


Wes jus sum ig'nant black folk. Our itty bitty brains can't handle such fiiiine art.

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