When many movies provide us with cartoonish "mwehehe I'm so evil" villains, there are those that make us truly hate the villain, by making them an honestly, realistically despicable person. But this movie goes further than that - it portrays a truly evil institution
, and being based on a true story, that only makes it harder to watch.
The sheer injustice of what happened to Solomon Northup is maddening, but not nearly as much as the way slaveowners casually justify the terrible things they do: keeping people in chains, beating them not just for minor mistakes, but randomly for pleasure, hanging people for sport, and possibly worst of all, separating people from their family members. One slave woman begs not to be separated from her children, claiming that she will be the best, most loyal slave ever if only she is allowed to be with her young son and daughter. But the man who purchases her can't afford her children, and so she is separated from them. According to the book this movie is based on, this scene actually happened as depicted.
One critic has called the movie "liberal propaganda", which is absurd when numerous people have, throughout history, researched the veracity of the original 1853 book and found that every detail that could be verified, has turned out to be true. The very fact that there are people who want this type of movie buried is all the more reason why it needs to be seen. It's an important history lesson.
History lessons serve a purpose; they teach us not just what happened, but how and why. How people can think it's morally acceptable to do the disgusting things accurately depicted in the movie (and, compared to the book, actually toned down). Looking at the past could provide answers for the present. Just think of the prejudices that exist today; "today" referring to whenever this review is being read. Throughout history and even today in many countries, racial and religious minorities, the poor, women, gays, the disabled, and others are abused and mistreated in ways ranging from subtle to horrific, all the result of casual prejudice and societal acceptance of horrible behavior. It's vitally important that we see examples of how commonplace, casually accepted societal evil has played out in the past, to remind us that it can show up at any time. And exist even today.