12 Years a Slave – #stillshot

In Features, FILM, THEATRE & TV, HOME by Hannah Oliver

#stillshot is a feature in which someone selects a frame from a film, episode or campaign and discusses its content. The idea being to illustrate how the art of film composition, aesthetica and acting expression can convey the messages of entire movements and ephemeralities in a split-second. Also, ’cause there’s some pretty cool film shots out there.

tumblr_mz7j69PV0V1qbfoleo1_500Setting the Scene: Juergen Teller’s W magazine campaign for the Best Performances of 2013. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, Academy Award nominated. 12 Years A Slave has just won the OSCAR for Best Picture, as the film that has broken the American pop-culture silence on slavery history.

This #stillshot is a frame of contrasts. Black and white. Stripes and circles. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jurgen Teller. A man who tells entire stories with his eyes, a man to break hearts. And a man who tells stories with a camera lens, in whose abrasive, pixelated flash of light is captured here all the symbols of a story two hundred years in the making. There are no questions in this portrait. The one that thunders through the press – why is 12 Years A Slave the first biopic on American slavery to have touched Hollywood? – is met here with a shrug-roll of the shoulders, a nonchalant cock of the head. Underneath that trim moustache is the smallest of smug smiles. Yeah, it’s about time this topic was talked. And he’s fucking nailed it. A floodgate has opened, Ejiofor the golden boy who rides atop the mighty stream.

In here, in this room, however, all is still. Those eyes, so expressive in Steve McQueen’s loud, acclaimed film, are deadened to flat, black pinpricks. The walls are matte and bleached in contrast to the long, black man and his handsomeness; a blank canvas to his poise and his shimmering white Prada, a suit no black man could have worn in no big-shot magazine one hundred years after slavery was shelved. The retro seventies bedspread knows: long, coloured stripes connote the years, stretch back through decades of blood and blues. In the mirror, the so-called emancipated man is effaced: no identity, only a forehead, the tell-tale fuzz of ‘fro-hair. Horizontal, another mirror (whiter, brighter) perches. It is empty, a face-shaped imprint upon the wall. And the second bed is cold, vacant. It holds the time, this motel room. Transience, transition, and yet all the years still there, by this still, sitting man. He is waiting. There are no shadows under the glare of Teller’s flares and reflectors, there is nowhere to hide. In a motel room where forty years ago he could not have sat, Ejiofor waits for someone.  The viewer? Whom he views with a direct and unflinching gaze. It neither welcomes nor condemns, but there is a challenge: take me on, or join me. So let’s talk.

Hannah Oliver is the Editor of FILM, THEATRE & TELEVISION at PTL. She studies English Literature at the University of Edinburgh and would like to think this an apt excuse for her tendency to be overly florid, pleonastic and long-winded.  However, there are two things to effectively shut her up – coffee and/or chocolate. ’Nuff said.

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(Image sourced from: www.wmagazine.com)