After beating a white slave driver with his own whip in 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Upnorth, a kidnapped freeman from Saratoga, New York, is hung from a tree—not successfully though. As the slave driver and two other men attempt to get Solomon entirely off of his feet, the overseer comes and warns these men have no property right to kill this man. If the slave driver insisted on lynching Solomon, the overseer insisted on shooting the slave driver, and his friends. The slave driver and his friends retreat, leaving Solomon hanging. With his feet close enough to the ground, Solomon teeters between life and death on his tip toes. It wasn’t until later that evening, when the plantation owner had returned, that Solomon had been cut down from that tree.
Darker than the possibility that other slaves would watch a man hang from a tree was the reality that these slaves had gone about their day as if there had not been a man hanging from a tree. The movie theater grumbled as the scene progressed with everyone asking the same question, “Oh my god, why isn’t anyone helping him?” As the grumbles stopped, people began to realize that nooses were monkey-ropes. Not only were they fastened around the necks of the men and women who hung from trees, they were anchored to the spirits of the people who had to endure what they saw. When necks broke, spirits did too. This is what asphyxiation looks like.
We all see the asphyxia. Every time a fight breaks out we’re all gasping for “WorldStar!” That monkey-rope which connected people through suffering and beauty is severed. Now we see what monkeys do—and it’s funny, isn’t it?