The film 12 Years a Slave is a virtuosic and unrelenting depiction of pre-Civil War American slavery as seen through the eyes of a free black man lured into human trafficking at best, and damnation at the very least. To some, it's one superlative art form — Solomon Northup's literary masterpiece of the same name — masterfully molded into director Steve McQueen's most superior cinematic feat to date. Hopefully for others it's all of the above, as well as a glaring reminder that America hasn't levied proper reparations for the brutality it legalized and sustained for generations.
Knowing that scenes from the film were purged of their viciousness in order to meet motion picture guidelines, one can only imagine what slaves around the globe endured. The recent New York Times article "Caribbean Nations to Seek Reparations, Putting Price on Damage of Slavery" poses the oft-cited dilemma in seeking reparations: Is it possible for a nation to put a value on centuries of human desecration, mass murder, kidnapping, rape and forced servitude? And if these island nations believe historical wrongs have resulted in modern-day inequities for which reparations are due, why hasn't America — a purported beacon of democracy and equality — offered ancestors of African-American slaves any redress?
How can a country compensate for denying an entire race its human liberties and decencies? And what should be given to the descendants of those souls who were ferried across their very own River Acheron to a life — if it can be called such — in the underworld that would make Dante's Inferno seem like a holiday sojourn?
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