Movie Scene Analysis: Gender Discrimination And Racism In “12 Years A Slave”

Gender Discrimination Through History

Gender discrimination has existed as long as there have been men and women. Though we find it unsettling today, for many years, it has been far worse and much more out in the open. It has served as a barrier between the sexes. The notion that women are not on the same level as men has always been the way. In the book of Exodus in the Bible, the belief of women being inferior stems from the creation of Adam and Eve. Eve’s role was to be a servant, a temptress, and the reason Adam disobeyed God. Consequently, Eve was blamed for being the reason mankind no longer lives in paradise. Sexism continued throughout ancient history and continues in our own environment to this day.

Women are often bystanders to sexist remarks. Research shows that they experience a variety of negative emotions when they are the targets of sexism. Those who witness derogatory remarks can also be affected. It is a matter of direct and indirect contact. Being seen as a woman seems to be the lowest place in society and of the lowest value.

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Heterosexism

The battle for significance by women rages on. For every step forward and victory, there are an equal number of steps backward and defeat. As other groups make headway in the world and gain a place of recognition in society, gender bias seems to be so strong and entrenched that it cannot be wiped away. Individuals with heterosexual privilege do not realize the benefits they have in society and are trained not to make an effort to understand the discrimination the underprivileged endure. In some ways, it is the old analogy of having their heads in the clouds.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender are another force in the battle against the stereotype of heterosexism. Their cause has gained success, but, like women, they make progress only to be thrown back by the devoted heterosexual community. When they declare their identity, they cause waves that ripple through the heterosexually dominated culture. LGBT Americans are in active resistance against heterosexism as an all-consuming force and have difficulty devoting time to class work that is seen as irrelevant in the face of the ongoing battle.

Theories of homosexuality

Genetic Theory describes the cause of homosexuality as people being born gay. The brain theory is much more in-depth about the cause of homosexuality. It states that the size of a person’s hypothalamus will cause them to be homosexual. A gay person’s hypothalamus is less than half the size of someone who is straight.

The sociological perspective of deviance describes society and socialization as the causes of homosexuality. The conclusion that society causes homosexuality arises from the fact that same-sex practices are common in some societies, such as Azande of Africa and some New Guinea societies, although they are rare in Western societies. This suggests that same-sex orientation can vary by society, thus allowing society to be the causal factor in homosexual individuals. The other cause of homosexuality, which the sociological perspective of deviance refers to, is socialization.

While the biological and sociological perspectives of homosexuality may explain the causes, the origin or how homosexuality first came to be is not described in either of these perspectives. These perspectives fail completely to describe when and how deviant populations first became categorized and called homosexuals.

Continuum of sexuality and gender expression

Identifying the film

When people think of the years when slavery was legal, they imagine all black people being forced to work on plantations picking cotton. What seems to be lightly covered in the records of the time is the large number of black people who lived as free citizens, mainly in the Northern United States. They were not treated as equals but had the freedom to do as they wished without a master. The movie 12 Years a Slave documents the life of a free black man, Solomon Northrup, who was kidnapped and forced into slavery. The movie is based on the biographical novel by Mr. Northrup of the same name.

Though black people in the northern states were free, they were still subjected to the status of lower citizens, having to be careful of where they went and how they spoke. There was a very active movement in the north known as the abolitionists who were strongly opposed to slavery, worked to free them, and got them out of the United States. The only place those who were freed could live was Canada. If they were caught in the United States, by law, they had to be returned to their owner.

African Americans had to carry papers that identified them as free citizens. This separated them from any slaves that may have escaped captivity. In today’s society, this is viewed as the greatest of wrongs. Back then, blacks belonged to their owners. A slave could be freed by his owner, which happened with people who felt compassion for them.

Solomon was the son of a freed slave who lived in upstate New York. He was married and worked as a laborer. His real claim to fame was his ability to play the violin. His living was not harsh, but, like many people, he lived from payday to payday. When two men offered him excellent money to play his violin for the circus, he jumped at the chance to provide for his family. Unfortunately, his benefactors had other plans. They drugged him, took him to the Red River region of Louisiana, and sold him as a slave.

For twelve long years, Solomon endured the harshness of the slave industry, suffering unimaginable embarrassment and shame. The slave owners would treat their slaves horribly just for the hell of it. For example, a slave was not allowed to disrespect their master in any way, shape, or form. Any such action would be viewed as rebellious, resulting in severe punishment, such as many lashes from a whip or a paddle to the back. If a slave was not able to perform a specific amount of work that was required, they would receive lashes.

In one scene of the film, Solomon does not pick the proper amount of cotton wanted by his master. For his oversight, he was viciously beaten. The most striking scene is where Solomon is about to be lynched for striking a white man. Thankfully, he is rescued from the full weight of the rope but is forced to remain on his tiptoes, avoiding being strangled to death.

This is just part of the abuse that Solomon suffers under the cruelty of his owners. Eventually, Solomon finds an ally for his cause as a freeman, an abolitionist named Bass, who gets a message back to Solomon’s family and works to get him freed from his illegal imprisonment. At the end of the film, Solomon enters his home to the sight of his children, who are twelve years older and have families of their own.

Though there have been many films on the abuses suffered during a very dark period of American history, what adds poignancy to this film is the idea that it is a true story recorded by the man who lived it. As a student in Michigan, it is hard to imagine a world where one group of people so maliciously mistreats another group of people. Basically, they treated human beings like animals. As you watch the film and see the slaves cover themselves in fear, you get the feeling of a dog who has been beaten multiple times.

Though the thesis of the film is Solomon and the cruel and inhuman punishment he received, a secondary character is Patsey. Much of Epps’, the slave owner’s, physical desires are directed at Patsey. He rapes her and abuses her to the point that she wants to be murdered by Solomon. She is less valuable than Solomon because she is a woman and is used as a means of pleasure by Epps. To add to her burden, Epps’ wife despises her due to Epps’ infatuation with her.

The truly horrible thing about Patsey’s fate is near the end of the film when Solomon rides away in a carriage, a free man again. Patsey crumbles to the ground in defeat. That one scene emphasizes the place of women in that society and society in general. Though Solomon was able to negotiate his freedom, he gave little consideration to Patsey regardless of how she helped him and was his companion in his misery.

This point is further enforced by the position of Epps’ wife. She was angry and insulted by Epps’ attention to Patsey. She ordered him to get rid of her. Epps ignored her as being just a woman. His desires and pleasures were far more significant than her needs and desires. It was a clear demonstration that regardless of the position of a woman, she is still in subservience to her heterosexual partner. The situation gave the impression that Epps had two women to serve him, neither of whom had any choice in the matter.

The position of Patsey in the film, as a secondary character or an afterthought, reinforces the position of women. As a character, her sole purpose is to serve and support the main character, Solomon. Her lowly position and importance are seen when he leaves. Patsey’s story is left hanging without a conclusion. As the film ends, the audience is drawn to the victory of Solomon but is not enlightened about the fate of Patsey.

Even though the filmmakers followed the book about Solomon closely and ended the film as the book did, when the carriage took Solomon away with the lawyer and abolitionist, my thoughts were stuck with Patsey. My strongest impression was that she would continue to suffer the torments of Epps until she died from the abuse or ended her own life. Regardless, I have been left up in the air regarding a woman who touched my heart in the midst of her destruction. It would have been nice to find out that Patsey overcame her situation and was given freedom as well. Such a fantasy seems very unlikely.

Such racism is supposed to be dead and gone. This is the 21st Century, an enlightened era where we accept everyone. It would seem that such an idea would be the definition of our world. But, if we look at it closer, we are not too far removed from the days of Solomon Northrup. It may be true that we do not beat other people or degrade them in such humiliating ways. The acts of prejudice are far more subtle and happen in multiple ways.

Recently, a waitress, a very young black woman at a well-known restaurant, waited on a couple. Being very young, she was mostly unaware of racial hatred and bigotry. She provided the couple with her excellent smiling service, doing everything possible to make their meal enjoyable. At the end of the meal, she gave them their check, which they paid. But, added to the check, they left a note saying that they don’t tip the N-word.

This didn’t happen 150 years ago, as in the story of Solomon Northrup. It was just last week at the end of September 2018. The young woman didn’t get upset about the negative insult, but her mother did. The internet lit up with examples of others who have done the same thing across the United States. It seems to be an unfortunate part of some human nature to tread on the back of another person so that they can stand taller.  

References:

  1. Carr, M. E. (1992). Sexual harassment in higher education: Myth or reality? Educational Researcher, 21(3), 23-27. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1176116

  2. Klonoff, E. A., & Landrine, H. (1995). The schedule of sexist events: A measure of lifetime and recent sexist discrimination in women’s lives. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 19(4), 439-472. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1995.tb00200.x

  3. Nadal, K. L., Davidoff, K. C., Davis, L. S., & Wong, Y. (2014). Emotional, behavioral, and cognitive reactions to microaggressions of race/ethnicity. The Counseling Psychologist, 42(1), 127-142. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/0011000013496438

  4. Davis, K. (2008). Intersectionality as buzzword: A sociology of science perspective on what makes a feminist theory successful. Feminist Theory, 9(1), 67-85. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/1464700108086364

  5. Lorber, J. (2005). Breaking the bowls: Degendering and feminist change. Gender & Society, 19(4), 561-565. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243205278639

  6. Rich, A. (1980). Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian existence. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 5(4), 631-660. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1086/493756

  7. Kimmel, M. S. (2002). ‘Manhood in America: A cultural history. Oxford University Press.

  8. Foucault, M. (1981). The history of sexuality: An introduction (Vol. 1). Pantheon.

  9. Chambers, D., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (1998). Student outcomes and perceptions of the quality and frequency of interaction in a virtual classroom. The American Journal of Distance Education, 12(2), 6-26. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/08923649809526974

  10. Epps, S. (2013). 12 Years a Slave. Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Heroic Pursuits In The Epic Of Gilgamesh And The Old Testament Flood Myths

The Ancient Narratives of Cataclysmic Floods

There have been various flood stories identified from ancient societies’ sources spread around in many places. The accounts that were found on cuneiform tablets, which include the oldest enduring tales of epic floods, have clear similarities. The Sumerian flood is a myth in which Sumerians were a non-Semitic, non-Indo-European people who lived in southern Babylonia from 4000-3000 B.C.E. The Old Testament (flood myth) was connected to the same myth. The Sumerian flood myth and the Old Testament flood myth both express the actions and sacrifices taken to remain or be powerful.

Utnapishtim’s Tale: A Glimpse into the Sumerian Epic

The Sumerian flood myth found in the Deluge tablet was the epic of Utnapishtim, who heard the Gods’ plan to destroy humanity. In response to this, he constructed a vessel that delivered him from great waters. This highlights how the story of a great flood that destroyed the Earth was not unique to the Hebrews, who recorded it in the Bible. The mid-nineteenth century was a time when many Western people began to doubt the historical truth of the Bible. For many centuries, the story comforted people. Scholars from various young fields, geology, archeology, paleontology- were producing evidence that Earth was much older than anyone thought.

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They also believe that stories of the adventures of Gilgamesh, the Sumerian hero, that existed in the oral tradition of Sumer were first written down in approximately 2100 B.C.The Sumerian hero Gilgamesh traveled the world in search of a way to cheat death. On one of his journeys, he came across an old man, Utnapishtim, who told Gilgamesh a story from centuries past. The Gods brought a flood that swallowed the Earth. The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the flood.

They were told to tear down a house and build a boat. Abandon wealth, seek living beings, spurn possessions, and keep alive living beings! Make (the seed of) all living beings go up into the boat. Whatever I had, I loaded on it; whatever silver I had, I loaded on it. Whatever gold I had, I loaded on it. All the living beings that I had I loaded on it, I had all my kith and kin go up into the boat, all the beasts and animals of the field and the craftsmen I had to go up,” he mentioned. The sun God, Šamaš, had set a stated time: ‘In the morning I will let loaves of bread shower down and in the evening a grain of wheat! Go inside the boat, seal the entry!’ That stated time had arrived. In the morning, he let loaves of bread shower down, and in the evening, a grain of wheat. All day long, the South Wind blew, blowing fast – and then the flood came, overwhelming the people like an attack. Six days and seven nights came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land.

When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding. All day long – quiet had set in, and all the human beings had turned to clay. When a seventh day arrived, he sent forth a dove and released it. The dove went off but came back to him. No perch was visible, so it circled back to him. He then sent forth a swallow and a raven, but only the swallow circled back. As they arrived, all Gods were shocked because the flood was supposed to diminish every human, as for Utnapistim and his wife, who were both human beings. Enlil went up inside the boat and, grasping his hand, made him go up.

He had his wife go up and kneel by his side. “He touched our forehead and, standing between us. He blessed us: ‘Previously, Ut-napištim was a human being. But now let Ut-napištim and his wife become like us, the Gods!” Utnapistim mentioned. They were told they must not lie down for six days and seven nights to be as immortal as them. The God Ishtar created the rainbow and placed it in the sky as a reminder to the Gods and a pledge to mankind that there would be no more floods.

Gilgamesh’s Quest for Immortality

Gilgamesh was trying to become immortal and a God. He was challenged to not sleep for a week. If he wished to become a God and immortal, he’d have to stay on his feet and awake for seven nights and six days to prove he was as weak as a human. Gilgamesh was going to try and deceive. Gilgamesh obediently squatted down and tried to stay awake. He was struggling to stay awake, but sleep eventually overtook him. Utnapishtim’s wife advised her husband that Gilgamesh would try to deceive him and say he had been awake. His wife each day adds a loaf of bread until he awakes. Since Gilgamesh made a long, difficult, and crazy journey to meet Utanapishtim, Utanapishtim generously sent him back with a secret thing created by the heavenly Gods. The secret was a plant, “This plant cannot make you live forever, but it will keep you young and strong all the days of your life,” mentioned Utanapishtim.

Gilgamesh lost the plant on his journey home. As they walked towards their city, Gilgamesh admired his city and told Urshanabi to pay attention to the strong walls in the city of Uruk. “I built these walls on a foundation created in ancient times by the seven wise men, who brought knowledge to our land,” Gilgamesh proudly mentioned. Gilgamesh was apparently a real king of Uruk, sometime between 2700 and 2500 B.C. The writings of the time showed that the people valued justice, freedom, and compassion. Gilgamesh inscribed the travels upon stone tablets that were placed on the strong walls of Uruk so that his people could gain wisdom and remember him.

The Old Testament’s Flood Story

The flood myth, the Old Testament, recounts God’s choice to restore the Earth to its pre-creation condition of crazy water madness and afterward change it in an inversion of creation. The account has exceptionally solid similitudes to parts of the Epic of Gilgamesh, which originated before the Book of Genesis. A worldwide flood, as written, conflicts with the physical discoveries of geography and paleontology. A part of creationism known as flood geology is a scientific aim to contend that such a worldwide flood really happened.

The Bible and God were mad at people because they all turned on God. So God said he would wipe everyone out for not believing in him. He told Noah to build an ark, and he gave him a plan and blueprint on how to build it. Noah tried to warn people, but since everyone had turned on God, they considered him crazy. God told him to get him and his family on the ark. Noah was given instructions to take two animals of every kind, one boy and one girl, with them on the ark. They were in the ark for 40 days while the storm was in progress. Meanwhile, everyone died. After the days passed, they sent a dove to see if it was good to come out. The dove returned but with a plant to indicate the flood was over.

Comparing the Myths: Parallels and Distinctions

Both Gods wanted to get rid of humanity. The difference is that in Noah’s Ark, the people didn’t want to save themselves. As for the other myth, they banished everyone without them knowing. Many of the same ancient stories can be found in different cultures. Each story differs in a small way, but the general idea remains synonymous. One story that is paralleled in several cultures is the legend of a great flood. The epic of Gilgamesh resembles the Bible’s story of Noah’s Ark, but specific details differ in several aspects. The story of Gilgamesh originates from twelve fire-hardened mud tablets, written in cuneiform, in the Mesopotamian culture from around 2500 B.C.E. It has been passed down through generations for centuries, teaching obedience to Gods.

There have been various flood stories identified from ancient societies’ sources spread around in many places. Gilgamesh and Noah both struggle with sacrifices to become powerful in the myths of The Sumerian flood and Old Testament flood. But these sacrifices lead to a strong sense of personal development on who they are as gods.

References

  1. George, A. R. (2003). The Babylonian Gilgamesh epic: Introduction, critical edition and cuneiform texts. Oxford University Press.
  2. Kramer, S. N. (1963). The Sumerians: Their history, culture, and character. University of Chicago Press.

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