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Brits do it better?

MEN OF ACTION: 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen, left, with the film’s star Chiwetel Ejiofor

HAPPY NEW Year! I hope you all had a great holiday period. I ended last year in a relaxed fashion for once. It had been a hectic year and I needed to step back and reflect.

I think the number of black oppression films I viewed just before Christmas also added to my sombre mood. It was a strange year, as the movies about racial consciousness came thick and fast.

The film world is seeing a black film renaissance, but why did all the films have to be so depressing? I know these stories have to be told but like the same complaint we make on TV, don’t we have any feel good films to balance this stuff out?

In recent years we’ve had The Help, D’Jango Unchained, The Butler and this week sees the release of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom – all of which touch upon issues of black oppression.

We complain that there aren’t enough roles for black actors then a whole bunch of films come along with roles for black thespians, yet they’re all depressing. It’s a lose-lose situation right there!

Still, while The Help was horrific, D’Jango Unchained was tragic but had humorous moments and was sold as a cowboy comedy in part, and The Butler was based on a true story and was a watchable story with sentiment.

In 2014 we can expect the biopics about Martin Luther King and James Brown, so expect more sweetening up of real stories right there.

One film you definitely need to be mentally and emotionally prepared for is 12 Years A Slave. I went along to a private early screening with a group of girlfriends – and the film is intense.

It is extraordinary story of a free black man torn from his family in New York in 1841 and enslaved in the South, and 12 Years A Slave is all the more tragic as it is based on a true story.

In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, was abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty at the hands of his slave owner, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. But in the 12th year of his tragic enslavement, Solomon's chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist altered his life forever.

MOVIE NIGHT: Jasmine attended the screening with friends (l-r) Diane Henry Lepart, Kanya King, Jodie Dalmeda and Claudia Webbe

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon, 12 Years A Slave from UK director Steve McQueen, is being tipped to become the first film by a black director to win the Oscar for best picture at the Academy Awards in March.

The reason I think this movie has touched audiences most is because it was a British director who finally brought the true horror of slavery – one of the most shameful chapters in American history – to the big screen.

Other slave films have infused comedy and sentiment to the subject matter, but McQueen with 12 Years A Slave was not messing about.

The movie had all the press and celebs at Cineworld in Haymarket in tears. There were audible gasps and sobs all the way through the screening.

I think it’s great that the younger generations who may not have watched Roots in its heyday can view this and take in just how recent slavery was. It took place during my own great grandparents’ era, so it’s a time not that far back in history.

After the screening, Steve and Chiwetel took part in a Q&A session with the audience, where they spoke of their experience making the film and how they wanted it to be a true reflection of a horrific historical period.

Steve said: “Tragic and terrible things happen on beautiful days all the time. One person’s great sunny day is another’s day of devastation.”

In making this film, Steve McQueen and Chiwetel have shed light on unresolved tensions in a nation where black Americans remain disproportionately poor, badly educated and locked behind bars – even as they are led by their first black president. It has made Americans sit up and pay attention. Here’s hoping it will have the same affect here in the UK.

Read the exclusive interview with 12 Years A Slave director Steve McQueen in Life & Style out January 9.

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