The genius of Alfre Woodard. (Ebert)
Sitting on her porch with Solomon and the continually violated Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), Mistress Shaw smiles at them and presides over a kind of mad tea party. Mistress Shaw, as Woodard plays her, is maybe a little mad, but her madness could also be seen as will power. There's something deliberately absurd, or absurdist, about her, and she can afford this luxury because she has come to some conclusions about her place in the world and her debased milieu. McQueen has given Woodard what seems like the key line of his film, and she pronounces it with such airy authority that it has haunted my consciousness ever since I heard her say it. "The plague of the Pharaohs is but a poor sample of what awaits the plantation class," she says to Solomon, in a way that makes it seem like an open-and-shut case that barely touches the hem of her own private, locked-away consciousness. This line augurs earthly punishment for the American South, but Woodard suggests much more than that. Will there really be a judgment for human evildoing after death? I'm assuming you've given this idea some thought at one time or another. I’ve never been sure. But I’m slightly surer that there might be because of the smilingly certain way that Woodard says that line.