The Cotton Picking Sequences And Scenes Of Violence And Abjection Essay

The Cotton Picking Sequences And Scenes Of Violence And Abjection Essay

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12 Years a Slave positions exquisite beauty between and within scenes of violence and abjection to inspire poignant reflection; tranquil landscapes emphasize the severity of various gruesome acts and remind us of man’s capability for amorality. Though we often like to sequester slavery to a time and a place no longer existent, it was not 19th century Louisiana that committed these heinous acts but rather the privileged white men who occupied the territory. Though the beautiful landscape shots may provide respites from previous horrific sequences, they also serves to intensify the deplorable by contrast. We reflect on the slave drivers and wonder how they internally justify such inhumanity; how does Epps preach the words of g-d and then proceed to whip innumerable innocent souls? However, beauty’s admirer remains visually anonymous since we are never granted subjective landscape perspectives; therefore, we are left to wonder how the various individuals experience and/ or represent this beauty. The cotton-picking sequences and the scene in which Solomon rows down the river illustrate the jarring effects beauty and abjection create when presented simultaneously. The former inspires psychological introspection regarding the slave drivers and the slaves yet also provides for bitter self reflection; the latter works to assimilate visual beauty with the retention of hope.
Beginning with the cotton picking sequences, Steven McQueen frequently uses a wide far shot and captures the blinding white cotton against the deep natural greens of the surrounding foliage. We see the slaves spread out in the field amidst this tranquil landscape yet we then see the slave drivers and hear the sounds of their whips and derogatory demands. It creates an...

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... a legal right to it. With the odds stacked up against him, he refuses to “fall into despair.” This degree of unbelievable faith necessitates an equally unbelievable display of beauty.
From the eye-opening truth behind the evil capacities of man to the parallels between hope and beauty, McQueen creates a narrative so perfectly disturbing. Though left unsettled, he captures the necessary history he needs to convey and the unfortunate facts he needs to lay bare while rarely painting overwrought violence. McQueen juxtaposes his violence with beauty to magnify our affective reactions to slavery’s contemptibility. Though it may be difficult to accept, he captures and conveys his characters’ emotions, human nature, and historical atrocity through this juxtaposition. This severe contrast only works to make his work more poignant than the common blood-splattering massacre.

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