MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Finally today, if I ruled the world - which I do not - I would have a list of movies that politicians and would-be-politicians and pundits would have to see before they get to weigh in on any topic that involves anybody other than themselves. Yes, of course, I have a list of books, too, that I would prefer that they read. And maybe a podcast or two that they would download - you can guess which ones. But I'm going to stick with movies for now because movies are the way that anybody can see the world. Now I'm not talking about documentaries, although this country has produced some great ones. I'm talking feature films, because many people will see a feature who wouldn't be caught dead in an art house theater watching a movie about race relations or the Holocaust or farm workers or space. But they will go see a movie and they will be changed.
The movies on my current list aren't necessarily the ones with the big ideas and soaring rhetoric or most exciting visuals, although some of them have that. They are the ones that show the day-to-day reality of being the object of forces bigger than yourself. And that's why "Schindler's List" is on my list. Not just for the incredible scenes at the death camps, but because it shows the day-to-day moments of desperate fear and petty humiliations that are the meat of the oppressed. Demian Bichir's "A Better Life" is on my list because it shows what life is like for illegal immigrants living in the shadows. And "The Children's Hour" is on my list because it shows you that the closet can actually kill that which it seeks to hide. "The Right Stuff" is on my list because it shows why it's important to dream, but why dreaming is not enough. And "Miral", a little indie film about a Palestinian orphan is on my list because, love it or hate it, it offers a version of history that most Americans never see or hear about. And now there's a new one to add to the list. "12 Years A Slave," which will be in theaters this week.
It's a film based on the true story of a free black American named Solomon Northup who was kidnapped from his home in New York, sold into slavery and survives - barely - to tell about it. Now I'm no critic, but I must tell you it's one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen that's almost unbearable to watch. And I say that because it exposes in graphic detail one of the ugliest chapters in our history. More than that, it shows the humiliation and degradation of utter powerlessness of being subjected to the roaming hands, the fits of rage, the petty resentments of another human being with virtually no recourse except death. All this in a nation that says it cherishes the freedom and equality of everybody. As I say, it should be required viewing before anybody throws around slavery as a casual metaphor again.
Now I'm saying this because Dr. Ben Carson, the renowned surgeon, compared the Affordable Care Act to slavery last week in his remarks to a conservative political group. Dr. Carson, like the president, is African-American. And, like the president, has a compelling personal story behind his professional success. But he's no fan of President Obama and he likes the Affordable Care Act even less. He said that Obama Care is, quote, the worst thing that's happened in this nation since slavery, unquote. He went on to say that, quote, it is slavery in a way. Can I just tell you - he has a right to his opinion, but if Dr. Carson were as careless with his scalpel as he was with his words, he would not be the famous figure he is now. The healthcare law may be many things, but slavery it is not.
Comparing a law to extend health insurance to millions of people who don't now have it through a combination of private insurance, government-sponsored exchanges, and expanded subsidies, however flawed it may be, is not a system for owning human beings in perpetuity. To subjecting them to forced sex, forced work, forced ignorance and utter brutality. In the words of a former colleague and mentor of mine, it is not that words fail - it's that we have degraded them. There are slaves in the world right now. They are trapped in brothels, in fishing boats, making bricks, tending children not their own. They are hiding in plain sight. Let's not degrade their suffering and the suffering of generations by equating it with our disagreements of the moment. And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.