National Edition

Religious leaders hope new film brings attention to race relations

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 16 2013 1:20 p.m. MDT

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup in the new film "12 Years a Slave."

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In “12 Years a Slave,” the latest film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (“2012”), Solomon Northup, a free black man in the South, is sold into slavery and is trapped as a slave for a dozen years. The film is based off the true story of Northup’s fight for survival in the South in the mid- to late-1800s.

According to the Religion News Service, religious leaders are looking for the film to spark interest in present-day race relations.

“It is the elephant in the room,” said the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, a facilitator of the National African American Clergy Network, speaking at a panel discussion after a recent screening, according to RNS.

RNS reported that clergy and activists are hoping church leaders will see the movie and bring race and discrimination back into their discussions, especially after the film’s usage of whippings and other forms of brutality toward slaves.

Sojourners, a Washington-based anti-poverty group, is also hoping attention to these issues flows into the mainstream, according to RNS. The group’s founder, Jim Wallis, told RNS the stories in “12 Years a Slave” aren’t so different from what happens in everyday life today.

The film has its religious overtones, too. The Rev. Otis Moss III, a pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, told RNS that the “faith that they had in the film was really capitalism in drag.”

Michael Fassbender, who plays Edwin Epps, the brutal slave master who owns Northup, had a Q&A interview by The Daily Beast. His character uses religion to “dehumanize what he calls his ‘property,’ ” the article said.

Fassbender said in the interview that religion’s influence is very prevalent in the film.

“I think it can be a powerful influence, and it can be the flip side. Religion is very powerful and it depends on whose hands it sits in,” Fassbender said.

Jonathan Merritt at RNS analyzed the depiction of religion in the film last month. He said religion is still used as a motivator for race relations in present-day society.

“’12 Years a Slave’ reminds us that every generation has a choice between a faith that crushes and oppresses and one that uplifts and liberates,” Merritt wrote.

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

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