Steve McQueen's "12 Years A Slave," the movie that "will win Best Picture," has received near unanimous praise from the nation's top critics, including The New Yorker's David Denby, Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman and Time Magazine's Richard Corliss. Even those critics not completely in love with McQueen's film -- New York Magazine's David Edelstein gave "12 Years A Slave" a positive notice, but with some reservation -- seem to agree that "12 Years A Slave" is one of the year's cinematic high points. All, apparently, except CityArts critic Armond White.
White, who is known for his frequent contrarian views (he thought "A Thousand Words" was better than "Argo", and wrote the first negative review of "Toy Story 3"), has slammed "12 Years A Slave," writing that it "belongs to the torture porn genre with 'Hostel,' 'The Human Centipede' and the 'Saw' franchise." There's more:
These tortures might satisfy the resentment some Black people feel about slave stories ("It makes me angry"), further aggravating their sense of helplessness, grievance–and martyrdom. It's the flipside of the aberrant warmth some Blacks claim in response to the superficial uplift of 'The Help' and 'The Butler.' And the perversion continues among those whites and non-Blacks who need a shock fest like '12 Years a Slave' to rouse them from complacency with American racism and American history. But, as with 'The Exorcist,' there is no victory in filmmaking this merciless. The fact that McQueen's harshness was trending among Festivalgoers (in Toronto, Telluride and New York) suggests that denial still obscures the history of slavery: Northup's travail merely make it possible for some viewers to feel good about feeling bad (as wags complained about Spielberg's 'Schindler's List' as an 'official' Holocaust movie–which very few people went to see twice). McQueen's fraudulence further accustoms moviegoers to violence and brutality.
White's pan puts "12 Years A Slave" in some good company: he also wrote negative reviews of "Gravity," "Blue Jasmine" and "Captain Phillips," three of the year's highest-rated films. His full review of "12 Years A Slave" can be found at the CityArts website.
"12 Years A Slave" is out in theaters on Oct. 18.