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“12 Years a Slave” and “Django Unchained” Essay

For my essay I will compare and contrast the themes between 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained, two movies that differ immensely when it comes to the direction and delivery of their respective plots; while still holding some key similarities such as their motifs and themes throughout both films. It’s those similarities however is also where we can dissect the corresponding differences such as how “heroes” and “villains” are portrayed entirely different from one another. And by using key examples I also aim to show how 12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained are prime examples of how one movie can break the usual feel-good cliché plot that all American cinema seems to portray; while the other follows a more traditional route that we are all more use too.

Throughout the entirety of both films we see multiple signature motifs and themes that we all can associate with when it comes to colonial America during that time period. Most notably should perhaps be the distinct lack of “personal morality”; or the implication that people of non-European decent are a form of lesser human. Especially within modern day cinema we seem to exploit these themes and the characters themselves in way that allow most directors creative leeway; however numerous people such as Quentin Tarantino will take those liberties into creating visuals on slavery that were overtly fictional, and only play a role in immediate plot development.

Throughout the entirety of Django Unchained we see a constant struggle for Django to regain his honor through the classic American medium of revenge. Because without the constant thought of vengeance, Django would be nothing more than a common villain; someone who uses force to gain what he desires. However even if he weren’t to use force, in Quentins Tarantino’s vision even those who don’t fight are considered cowards. And it is with that character development and overtly fictional plot that makes Django Unchained the American cliché that it is.

While these films take different approaches in storytelling, any critic must start with acknowledgment for the creators taking the period and creating interpretations that provoke thought. Particularity when it came to the movie 12 Years a Slave, a movie that broke any prenotion of how a truly exceptional American film is made. In it Steve McQueen, the director masterfully creates a tragic story of one mans’ journey through his own personal Hell and how we would later seek deliverance; but that is where 12 Years a Slave truly breaks off from any resemblance to Django Unchained.

For when Solomon, the main character seeks his own form of redeeming himself; the usual route of Hollywood is to create a response/event so that the audience entertained rather than the character developing further. Such is the case with Django Unchained, a story where Django is constantly called to respond and act in a masculine way. Whereas in 12 Years a Slave, the only way Solomon could ever come to move forward was not through his own actions, but rather after his lack of action and through the broken form of his body and spirit.

Overall, both movies were an acclaimed success at the box offices and each earned multiple awards. However the clear distinction between the two should be obvious; especially when taking into consideration the amount of fictional leeway certain directors and genre’s are allowed. And although the contrasts’ stand out more than the comparatives; I still find them to be a true testament of how quality American cinema is made. Either that be in the way Django Unchained masterfully fell into the true American genre; or how 12 Years a Slave beautifully brought forth a story told before, but in a new and abrupt way.

Works Cited

Livingston, Jay. “The Revenge Fantasy: Django Unchained vs 12 Years a Slave.” The Society Pages. Society Pages, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. . Moore, Antonio. “Slavery Displayed on Screen: A Discussion with the Creators of Roots about 12 Years a Slave & Django Unchained.” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 23 Jan. 2014. . – – -. “Slavery on Screen: Creators of Roots Discuss 12 Years & Django.” Atlanta Blackstar. Atlanta Blackstar, 27 Oct. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.

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