In a recent essay in Religion and Politics, I categorized last year's film 12 Years a Slave as a "political act" that, among other things, "present[s] religion as a mechanism of the film's political efforts."
The movie (which Charity R. Carney reviewed on this blog in November) has succeeded in sparking a number of conversations about race through the catalyzing legacies of American enslavement. And yet conversation is not nearly capacious enough a category for defining the political. Visual and cinematic strategies are integral to the film's politics, but focusing attention on the cinematic success of 12 Years a Slave also works to contain the problems that the film ostensibly exposes. Focusing attention on the movie's treatment of historical slavery does not let us off the hook for ignoring the racism that continues to immobilize Atlanta or the crippling segregation of St. Louis. So the questions I am left with are not far from those with which I started--what is this film about? What are we to do?
I'm not going to recap the essay here (you're welcome). But I do want to raise the question of the film's treatment of religion to this audience by way of the continuity (or disjuncture) between cultural critique and classroom pedagogy.
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Historic New England.