News Column

"12 Years a Slave" actress says understanding past key to future action

October 22, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 22--Understanding the realities of slavery, and the past in general, is critical to inspiring future action, actress Kelsey Scott said during a screening of her film "12 Years a Slave" at Hampton University Monday night.

The movie, released in select theaters Friday and scheduled for a Nov. 1 national release, is based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man from Saratoga, N.Y., who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. After spending 12 years enslaved in the South, Northup published his book in 1853 and became an abolitionist. In the movie, Scott plays Anne Northup, the wife of Solomon Northup.

During a question-and-answer session after the film screening, sponsored by the university and the Fox HBCU Alliance, Scott said she was compelled by Northup's story, not knowing herself that he and other free blacks had gone through the experience of becoming enslaved.

"Generally we hear slave narratives from the perspective of slaves who are born into that world. Very rarely do we hear the story of a man who's free and unjustly enslaved," Scott said. "It was not an anomaly -- it was a business."

Just as Northup became an abolitionist after his experience as a slave, Scott also hoped the film will move people, especially young people, to fight against the racism that currently exists.

"When we know more, our reactions are painted by that knowledge," she said.

The movie, which shows graphic scenes of slaves being beaten, has drawn criticism, drawing Scott's own criticism of a review of the movie she had recently read stating director Steve McQueen included the violent scenes for shock value.

"At what point was slavery not shocking?" she asked.

DaVida Plummer, a professor with Hampton University's Scripps Howard School of Communications and Journalism, and Scott's cousin, said the movie helped bring to light the struggles black Americans have faced.

"This movie is a chilling reminder of our forefathers' experience," she said.

Hampton University freshman Kayla Upshaw was among those who attended the film screening and said she was moved by seeing the abuse the characters went through.

"It was amazing in how strong some people can be and how brutal some people can be," she said.

Castillo can be reached by phone at 757-247-4635.

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(c)2013 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

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