An American Odyssey of Suffering : Aesthetic Strategies in Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave

Item Type Journal paper

In her seminal study on racial melodrama, Linda Williams suggested that "variations of the melodrama of black and white continue to be necessary to the way mass American culture ‘talks to itself' about race" (2001: 301), with cinema as a means for cultures to reflect on unresolved social tensions through fictional forms. Williams's choice of phraseology is reflexive of the theory informing her book: melodrama, a protean meta-genre and cultural mode, mobilizes cinematic aesthetic hyperbole and filmic realism, seeking to make an unspeakable moral order "legible;" a "mute text" used to conjure occult knowledge. Configured around signs of virtue and villainy through racial difference, racial melodrama's Manichaeism of good and evil allows for intense, emotive cinematic identification, capable of reconciling "the irreconcilables of American culture" (Williams 2001: 299). Hailed as the most important cinematic event in years, the critical success of Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave (2013) seems to attest to the continuing legitimacy of Williams's claims. This paper positions 12 Years a Slave in a melodramatic thematics of race. Examining the narrative and aesthetic strategies of McQueen's adaptation alongside generic conventions, it considers the ways the film, as a racial melodrama, negotiates ambivalences and contingencies of historic national trauma through a narrative of Manichaean moral legibility.

Authors Loren, Scott
Journal or Publication Title Anglia : Zeitschrift für englische Philologie
Language English
Subjects cultural studies
HSG Classification contribution to scientific community
HSG Profile Area SHSS - Kulturen, Institutionen, Maerkte (KIM)
Refereed No
Date 17 July 2014
Publisher de Gruyter
Place of Publication Berlin
Volume 132
Number 2
Page Range 336-351
Number of Pages 16
ISSN 0340-5222
ISSN-Digital 1865-8938
Publisher DOI 10.1515/ang-2014-0033
Depositing User Dr. Scott Loren
Date Deposited 01 Sep 2014 21:41
Last Modified 23 Aug 2016 11:19



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Loren, Scott (2014) An American Odyssey of Suffering : Aesthetic Strategies in Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave. Anglia : Zeitschrift für englische Philologie, 132 (2). 336-351. ISSN 0340-5222

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