Although having always been aware of issues surrounding the slave trade in America and policies such as Apartheid in Africa, it is impossible to say that any one person fully understands the discrimination felt by blacks during times of white-dominated rule. Two 2013 film releases, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and 12 Years A Slave both show without papering over the cracks the harsh circumstances faced by blacks of all races. These tear-inducing films aim to show people the severe realities faced by many and raise awareness of the torture these people lived through.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (2013) follows Mandela himself, played by Idris Elba, through his aim to stand against the pro-apartheid government, his involvement in African National Congress (ANC), his jail-time (spanning 27 years), and his election as first Black President of South Africa. Along the way, the film aims to highlight this man’s incredibly driven struggle and refusal to stand down and neglect his beliefs – even when he thinks that he is to die in prison. However, this film doesn’t only follow Mandela; it also aims to paint a bigger picture. It presents the deaths and discrimination faced by thousands of Africans due to harsh governments, ruled mostly by whites. Living in this time as a black person meant that you had no say over your own future, even Mandela’s own wife was arrested for simply being married to and supporting her husband.

Enslavement of blacks in Africa reportedly began in the middle of  the fifteenth century and spanned an astonishing 450 years. Blacks in Africa were forcibly transported overseas in order to work in various different slave trades. Merchants in Britain, America, Europe and even Africa itself profited from such trades, gaining money and social advancement from exploiting these people that are no different to themselves in anything other than skin colour. Movements against slavery and segregation didn’t come about until the late eighteenth century, movements that Mandela himself and his loyalty to his people later echoed – even in prison he acted as a role model for many blacks who needed something to believe in.

During the times of Mandela, segregation was rife. Apartheid governments imposed various laws separating blacks and whites, many of which are shown being protested by Mandela and the ANC during the film. Such laws include segregation of public transport and waiting rooms, cinemas and hotels providing separate rooms/facilities for different races, different schools for blacks and whites, and segregation in residential areas. Inter-marriage between blacks and whites was dubbed illegal, and a black person in the same employment as a white person would naturally be paid less. However, as if apartheid and segregation weren’t enough, 11 million blacks were reportedly a part of the transatlantic slave trade and were therefore forcibly removed from their homes and put to work, or they would risk losing their lives. This happened not only in Africa, but all over the world.

This is where 12 Years A Slave (2013) helps bring slavery into perspective in cities such as New York in America. This film documents the true story of a free black man named Solomon Northup, who is abducted from his home and sold into slavery. What is astonishing about this film is that not only did this man survive the horrendous ordeals he encountered, but he also never showed any sign of weakness; something that often led him to be severely beaten. Similarly to Mandela, this film presents a wider majority of people and their struggles rather than just focusing on the main character. This film depicts Solomon as a domestic slave working in a rich household with a group of other blacks. This man went through his 12 years as a slave believing that he would never again see his family, and was viciously beaten, almost hanged, and forced to witness horrifying situations in which women were used as sex slaves against their will.

The reasoning, of course, for this horrific treatment of blacks all boils down to one thing: the belief that they are inferior to whites. For white Americans,  granting equal rights for black Americans was not an option; it was just the way of the world. In this case, the discrimination of blacks was even legalized, their primary purpose being seen as serving whites and being kept under control. Governments would intervene as little as possible, meaning that blacks, similarly to those in Africa, had very little say in what happened to them.

Both of these men, Nelson Mandela and Solomon Northup, may be seen as heroes. Neither gave up on what they believed in and neither let harsh laws determine their lives. Even when Mandela was in prison, he protested for black inmates to be given longer pants just like the white inmates; and Solomon at one point stood up to a vicious slave driver when he believed he was being unnecessarily discriminated against. Such stories are compelling and even inspiring, but unfortunately, many weren’t as successful as these two, who both survived to tell their stories and impart their wisdom to thousands of people.

Millions died, were abused for little to no reason and murdered for the sheer devilment of the whites. Appalling as it is, although slavery is now illegal in every country, it sadly still occurs in many parts of the world. Despite the actions of governments and the impact Mandela and Solomon had on the world, people in places such as Africa are still living in appalling conditions, where slavery is rife. Although not as commonplace as in the eighteen and nineteen-hundreds, it is shocking to think that these things still happen in modern day societies, and it begs the question: when will people learn?

Equality is something that, especially now, should come without second thought or question – why is it okay to discriminate against someone because of the colour of their skin? Although historical figures have shown this to be the norm, it is encouraging to think that the instances of slavery are continuing to dramatically decrease, and here’s to hoping that one day, the number will reach zero.


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