Meet the Press   |  March 02, 2014

Slavery Revisited: Filmmaker Takes Hard Look

NBC Correspondent Harry Smith reviews Steve McQueen's film "12 Years A Slave" and its impact on America.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the movie world is gathering in hollywood for tonight's oscar ceremony. one of the favorites to win best picture is the "12 years a slave," the story of an african-american man who was sold into slavery in the mid- 19th century . harry smith now explores how america's ugly history around race still resonates in our modern day politics.

>> slavery is an american sin for which there is probably no forgiveness. its sheer cruelty made manifest in steve mcqueen 's film which has won nine oscar nominations.

>> i said come here.

>> i brought her back.

>> it's the true story of solomon, a free black man who was tricked, then sold into slavery. northrop wrote a book about it, a bet seller in 153. turning that book na a screenplay was the job of now os koor nominated writer john ridley .

>> i read it. i thought the way that he wrote, the elevated nature, the clarity of detail, the lack of bitterness, the lack of hatred that he spoke with about the circumstance with absolutely phenomenal.

>> my back is thick with scars for protesting our freedom.

>> his story filled gaps in ridley's own understanding of history.

>> but you start to realize how little we as americans really know about this aspect of history and how it affected all of us. you know, certainly people of color , slaves, no pun intended, got the bad end of the stick.

>> any more, i'll earn you 100 lashes.

>> collective consent where what's evil becomes ordinary. the film shows that in a way rarely seen on screen.

>> i've gotten really emotional. you go to screenings and people walk out and want to hug you, they want to shake your hand.

>> as powerful as the film may be, some like talk show host tavis smiley were left with a feeling of frustration.

>> tears i think are important. it's important that we like our jewish brothers and sisters never forget, but what does that have to do with what we're doing in realtime to value the lives of black men, of black boys and black people at large?

>> smiley believes the present and the past are the inextricably linked.

>> strip your clothes.

>> all these years after "12 years a slave," the fact that we still have in this country an intractable issue like racism even in the era of the nation's first black president , it's a shame. and a disgrace for all of us.

>> reporter: but if "12 years a slave" moves people even a single step says ridley, that's important.

>> i want to live.

>> my hope is that people will come out of this theater moved and not decent sized but sensitized and say if i feel that way about a film, that way about a story that happened back then, how should i feel about what's going on in the world right now?

>> for "meet the press," harry smith , nbc news.