Going insane was a luxury. It’s the going, that’s the treat. Going suggests travel, moving. There was no going. The madness was constant and still, sitting there, like a place on a map. It was where they lived, where they were from, born and bred into viscously mundane inescapable crazy. The women in the beautifully brutal film 12 Years A Slave were mangled and maliciously intertwined. The enslaved women lived like beasts and the “free” women behaved like savages, trapped together in a filthy cage of rape, rage and bitter resentment. A resentment so magnificent, it could freshly fester in the psyche of their daughters for centuries to come.
The twisted relationship dynamics between the two lead female characters Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) and Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulson) in 12 Years A Slave are a horror.
A painfully vivid illustration of the dank gnarly negotiations women had to make with each other to survive the demonic conditions of American slavery. The film fearlessly exposes a suppurating historic wound between Black and White women so wicked and utterly honest, it is both repulsive and liberating to witness. The most telling scene: We see the dark and sweet Patsey, doubly enslaved by virtue of her race and beauty, sway for a moment, let go like a girl, do a slow twirl. She is loose trying to lose herself, and she slips, for a moment, into a trance induced by the sound of her only friend Solomon’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) sad singing violin. His is almost music. She is almost dancing. It is all almost a human moment. All of a sudden she goes limp, drops, knocked back into the terror of her life, by a heavy crystal decanter hurled at her head by Mistress Epps. All of a sudden, she is once again a battered pile of dirty Black woman parts wrapped in rags down on the floor. Mistress Epps is hate, full, guided and preserved by it. Patsey, the object, the affliction. She is, in Mistress Epps molested mind, literally the mistress. Her husband Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) is addicted to Patsey, a deadly habit he will not kick, not for his wife, not for her dignity nor her sanity. The Mistress publicly demands Edwin rid himself and her home of the disease that is Patsey. He not only refuses his wife, he comfortably humiliates her, claiming his desire for the puddle of nasty nigger wench at their feet. The Mistress is frozen, stunned powerless by her husbands white male supremacy while Patsey is dragged away into darkness.
Patsey and the Mistress Epps personify Black and White American women’s painful slave legacy. American slavery was an insidious economic institution devised to benefit a minority of white Christian men, predicated on systemically preventing others access or the ability to establish alliances. Society has discussed how slavery successfully branded Blacks as inferior and sub-human, yet have we ever fully faced the brain washing, torture and rape terrorism practices slavery inflicted on Black and White women? 12 Years A Slave makes it evitable.