US rewards look into horrific past

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This is the one to beat in the 2014 Oscar ceremony as irony slides effortlessly into overdrive.

A black British director and lead actor. An African-American scriptwriter. An autobiographical memoir by an ex-slave.

And the US award forecasters are standing up to be counted for a film that exposes the nation’s ugly past. Funny peculiar?

In 1841, Solomon Northup was living with his family in upstate New York, an educated freed slave with a valuable musical talent. A year later, having been tricked, kidnapped and sold back into slavery, he is suffering deprivation and torture in the Deep South, with no rights and little hope.

If it wasn’t for Steve McQueen’s inspired rendition of a long-forgotten book and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s committed performance as Solomon, this might have been the flipside of Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

There were good slave owners and bad ones. Take your pick from the cast list.

As it turns out, a sadist by the name of Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) is given preference. His attitude, not dissimilar to Leonardo DiCaprio’s in Django, is “a man does what he likes with his property.”

What he likes is raping young girls and handing out 100 lashes to any slave foolish enough to answer back.

If there is a flaw in this beautifully made film it is the relentless nature of evil.

“I will not fall into despair,” Solomon tells himself and yet the agony awaits the ecstasy in vain. There is no escape except suicide.

As in the Nazi death camps, survival is ruthless. King Cotton rules with a rod of steel. Humanity, like Elvis, has left the plantation.