So. If I were more organized, I would have sources cited. They’re not, and I apologize. But.
The discussion of Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in 12 Years a Slave, that of William Ford, needs to be addressed.
Since the movie was released last year, I’ve seen Ford described as “hapless” and “sympathetic” in reviews of the film. This is disturbing, and has led me to two conclusions.
First, that Benedict Cumberbatch has reached an apex of adoration in his career. He’s Sherlock, he’s Khan, he’s Smaug, he’s beloved. And I do think he seems like an absolute darling in real life. However. It would seem to me that he’s too distinctive as an actor - in the sense that fondness for his real world person has fogged perception of his character.
Second, William Ford is part of a nauseating array of figures partaking in dehumanizing of millions of people of color. Solomon Northup, in his twelve years, was also besieged by an overseer who tried to murder him, an explosively sadistic plantation owner, and that man’s poisonous wife.
In contrast, William Ford was not a sadist. We do not see him raping women or beating the people he enslaves.
William Ford partakes of the same evil. He is not a good man. He is not hapless, he is not sympathetic. He is a flagrant hypocrite.
It has been observed by reviewers wiser than me, that Solomon Northup had good cause to paint Ford as a more sympathetic figure IN HIS ORIGINAL ACCOUNT. Northup’s life story was distributed among white abolitionists. It would be naive to think that because some people advocated for the end of the slave trade a century and a half ago, that they would not be considered racist by today’s standards. Ford acted as the “oh but there are such decent white people in the world” touchstone for Northup’s white readers. His book could not have served as such an effective tool if he alienated his target audience.
The historical record is up for discussion by more educated people. I want to examine the movie.
Steve McQueen made some very deliberate choices. Ford preaches to his family and the people he enslaves, all together. To lift them up. And when we are presented with a scene of his garden congregation, it isn’t peaceful. This is not a moment to say “oh, what a nice man, he just sort of fell into this human chattel stuff”.
Overlaying Ford’s sanctimonious lecture are the broken wails of Eliza, the woman Ford purchased with Solomon. Eliza, who was stolen south along with Solomon, and will never see her children again. This scene ought to break any human with a beating heart. William Ford is NOT sympathetic. The fact that he is not a violent sadist does not make him a good man. He is the face of the self-righteous South, believing he is blameless, just, in enslaving human beings because he doesn’t go out of his way to torture them. He is the face of every “good master” from a century of films.
Eliza’s sobs for her lost children drown out his sermon. That’s the point. Maybe people think Ford is sympathetic because at times he is kind to Solomon. Ford is as “kind” as he needs to be to sleep at night. Solomon Northup was an intelligent man, a gifted man, an educated man, whose vast talents were then OWNED by Ford. Of course it was in his interest to be civil.
Men are kind to well-trained dogs, too.
I would only ask that as a thinking, feeling audience, we not allow any affection for Benedict Cumberbatch as a person to overshadow the putrid, rotten core of the character he depicts.
Westworld - Possibly man in black/ william timeline theory confirmed?
SO i was so pumped watching westworld this sunday and i was super into the episode that i nearly missed a very important detail in the show. Im sure everyone remembers the part where William is first entering the park and a host dressed in a white dress offers to help him get dressed.
Now, this host is very important. If you watched this weeks episode, you would know how Teddy and the man in black ran into a victim of a ghost nation attack. A blonde girl who they untied and saved from a surviving beast.
Look familiar? Good, because yes, they are the same actress. I myself was not sure at first but after looking into it it is her. Now if its true william is from 30 years ago, surely he would recognize her, right? He would, and he (aka the man in black) makes note of her when he meets the blonde woman. “Its you.” he says “I figured they retired you. I guess Ford never likes to waste a pretty face.”
i NEARLY died when my sister informed me of this comment i nearly missed in the show. I think it definitely confirms that the man in black is indeed William in the future.
You could say the character you play, that Master Ford is maybe the good guy among all those bad guys in an evil world. How would you describe him?
You could if you were looking for sort of two-dimensional, cookie-cutter kind of definitions because, for my mind, a Christian man who preaches the word of God, in amongst which one of the most sacred tenets is that God created all men as equals, is a hypocrite--a moral hypocrite, resoundingly to his core, compromised individual because he's using human beings as a reason to solve his economic plight: He's in debt, so he sells Solomon on. And, I don't think those are the actions of a good man. He may not be ready with a whip hand, he may treat them with a little bit more..a little bit more reverence than the people they're handed on to, but he still owns people as slaves and makes them work for nothing on his plantation. So, a good man in a bad world? Not, not really. No. And when push comes to shove, he sells someone that he holds dear because it's easier for him, and that's not what a good man does. A good man makes sacrifices, and he doesn't.
I think he’s a very complex character because he’s morally bankrupt. He’s an utter hypocrite. He’s a Christian man, preaching the Gospel, and at the center of many tenets of the Gospel is the idea that God created all men as equals, and he’s basically trading in human beings to solve his debt. And that, to me, compromises him beyond any forgivable [unknown] as a Christian. And, yet, yes, he seems to be more pleasant, he seems to be more generous than the company that Solomon falls into, to put it mildly. So, I often question whether it’s just my twenty-first sensibilities kind of projecting a more, you know, harsh judgment on the man, but I can’t square the whole of somebody who pretends to be a Christian, preaches in a rose garden whilst the woman that he’s separated from her child is weeping, and call that the actions of a good man, a truly good man. I think he’s incredibly flawed. So while he may not be ready the whip, while he may be willing to gift, while he may be willing to look after, to an extent, the welfare of his men and women that work for him, he’s still a man who exists and survives through slavery. Can’t be right.
Benedict Cumberbatch on his character, Master William Ford, in 12 Years a Slave (2013), x (04:05-end).