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Society’s View About Ethics


Ethics and morality are notions that have been studied widely to influence human behaviours and relationships. The concepts have significant implications in different fields such as business, management, accounting, sociology and healthcare. The film “12 Years a Slave” is a work of art that explores the challenges and prejudice faced by many people during the period of slavery in the United States. These sufferings and pains are exposed through the lives of characters such as Patsy and Solomon Northup. This discussion uses the issues and concerns presented in the movie to analyse the question of ethics in the society.

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Synopsis of the Movie

The film begins by introducing an African American by the name Solomon Northup. The viewer observed that Northup is a free citizen at the beginning. He works as a violinist in New York. In 1841, Hamilton and Brown deceive Northup and ferry him to New Orleans. He is sold to a slave trader by the name Freeman. He is later sold to William Ford, a slave owner in the southern parts of the nation. Northup is later exchanged by different plantation owners to take up numerous roles as a slave. He is abused, tortured and beaten by different slave owners such as Edwin Epps (McQueen, 2013).

Throughout the period, Northup reveals to his colleagues and bosses that he is a free man. He meets and befriends Patsy. The young lady is abused and raped regularly by Edwin Epps. Northup later captures the attention of Samuel Bass who makes it easier for him to write to his friends in New York. Northup’s encounter with Bass transforms his life for the better. His freedom is restored after which he reunites with his family members. The other slaves continue to suffer in the hands of different owners.

Relevant Ethical Issues Portrayed in the Movie

The movie “12 Years a Solve” presents numerous issues that can be considered by anyone who is interested about the major concepts of ethics. The outstanding moral concern that can be identified in the film is that of justice. Khader (2013) argues that justice is a principle that focuses on a person’s obligation to act fairly without any form of mistreatment. Bell (2015) goes further to acknowledge that the principle is linked to various aspects such as equality, fairness and entitlement. In social relations, human beings should consider this principle in an attempt to support every person’s welfare.

The issue of justice (or lack of it) is addressed in this movie. To begin with, the enslavement of African Americans appears to be permitted in the described society. Most of the people either promote or justify the malpractice. The slave owners in the movie are observed to have some sort of authority over their subjects (McQueen, 2013). These masters have the power to determine who should live. The society empowers some people to exploit and torture their respective slaves.

Ethical theory supports fairness and equality for all. A just society will promote the most appropriate actions that can maximise the welfare for all. Unfortunately, this principle is disregarded completely in the presented community. This scenario presents an inverted model whereby injustice and inequality define the nature of the targeted society (Khader, 2013). This paradigm has created a scenario whereby African Americans and minorities are threatened and treated as second-class citizens. They are unable to pursue their dreams or support the needs of their children.

The audience observes how slaves suffer in the hands of their masters. These depictions of injustice, unfairness and barbarity can be used to explain why slavery is inappropriate in any given nation. Edwin Epps disregards the rights of his slaves including Patsey. Epps rapes and abuses her severally despite the fact that she is hardworking (Shelby, 2014). This kind of torture is unacceptable in every society. It portrays the superiority of one group over the others. The most astounding revelation from the movie is that the malpractices are not questioned by those in authority.

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Additionally, the film narrates the story of specific “good” slave owners (McQueen, 2013). The viewer acknowledges that the goodness of such masters is hypocritical in nature. This happens to be the case because slavery is unacceptable. Although these owners treat their slaves much better, they audience observes that they are still willing to maintain their senior positions (McQueen, 2013). The nature of slavery depicted in the film does not meet the threshold of justice. This kind of malpractice affects the experiences of many African Americans in the South.

The Holy Bible has been studied by Christians to develop better ethical principles and moral values (McQueen, 2013). Surprisingly, the film exposes how the Bible is used to promote oppression in the targeted society. Epps quotes different verses to support his actions. The term “servants” is misinterpreted to refer to slaves. The use of the Bible is intended to justify every form of mistreatment experienced by different workers and slaves. The Biblical concept of justice does not receive the required attention in the society.

These aspects show conclusively that slavery is an inhumane practice that disorients people’s lives. Consequently, it affects their goals and objectives of the victims. Solomon Northup is forced to lead a miserable life for twelve years. Despite being a free human being, he suffers the pains of slavery and witnesses the hardships encountered by his colleagues (McQueen, 2013). These developments explore the importance of ethical values in the society. When such concepts are disregarded, the liberties and freedoms of the people are lost.

Adequateness of the Film’s Perspectives Ethics

The movie “12 Years a Slave” has managed to capture the injustices associated with slavery. The experiences of Northup and his colleagues expose the unjust systems that characterised the nation in the 1840s. During the period, slavery was embraced in an attempt to promote the economic positions and welfare of many plantation owners. The society was not keen to address the malpractice since it sustained the agricultural sector (Shelby, 2014). This analysis makes it easier for the audience to compare these sufferings with the notions of ethics. The viewer observes that slavery is inappropriate since it denies more people their rights.

Racism and violence have been used in the film to support the relevance of justice. For instance, societies that promote justice will have reduced cases of oppression or racism. The film shows how these tools were utilised in the South to support economic oppression (Collste, 2016). The prejudiced members of the society were not in a position to engage in economic activities or improve their living conditions. The audience also notices how rape, torture and abuse are used by different masters. Such barbaric acts eventually affect the wellbeing of more victims.

From these scenarios, the viewer can argue that the producer and director of the movie have presented adequate attitudes that can be applied to analyse the issue of societal ethics. The happenings and pains identified in the film can encourage researchers to examine and appreciate the major concepts of ethics (Bell, 2015). Viewers can go further to use these scenes and experiences as guidelines to understand why ethics is a critical concept in every community. Ethicists and moral scholars can use the film as an exemplar to describe the dangers that arise when communities ignore the power of justice (Okano, 2016).

By doing so, more societies will be willing to promote the best actions and behaviours that can result in justice. The film encourages viewers to apply various religious teachings to support the ethical principle and eventually empower one another. Every society should always pursue specific actions and practices that promote justice for all.

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The selected film raises questions about the importance of promoting justice in every human society. The movie demonstrates an inverted model whereby injustice is the norm. The viewer is encouraged to embrace desirable practices and actions that can result in equality and fairness. The sufferings faced by Patsey and Northup can be used as guidelines to develop societies that support the welfare, rights and goals of every person without discrimination. People should be ready to embrace the concept of justice, empower one another and pursue what is acceptable. In conclusion, this analysis shows clearly that human beings have a mandate to act ethically and empower one another.


Bell, K. (2015). Can the capitalist economic system deliver environmental justice? Environmental Research Letter, 10, 1-8. 

Collste, G. (2016). Globalisation and global justice – A thematic introduction. A Journal of Philosophical, Theological and Applied Ethics, 3(1), 5-17. Web.

Khader, S. J. (2013). Intersectionality and the ethics of transnational commercial surrogacy. International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, 6(1), 68-90. 

McQueen, S. (Director). (2013). 12 years a slave. Web.

Okano, Y. (2016). Why has the ethics of care become an issue of global concern? International Journal of Japanese Sociology, 25(1), 85-99. Web.

Shelby, T. (2014). Integration, inequality, and imperatives of justice: A review essay. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 42(3), 253-285. 

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