Daniel Jose Older makes an interesting criticism of 12 Years a Slave in Salon. He loves the movie, but asks why the civil rights struggle is so often portrayed in terms of a white savior.  When the story of civil rights is told in those terms, the struggle of black men and women is relegated to the margins. They are denied agency in their own narrative. He uses Lincoln as an example:

“Our myths reveal mountains about who we are as a nation. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” erased Frederick Douglass, reinforcing the tired notion that a singular white man, through the sheer force of his moral conviction, brought slavery to an end. In “Lincoln,” as in “12 Years,” this cliché not only hobbles the film’s cultural relevancy, it is a narrative failure as well. The story begins with Lincoln already having formed his opposition to slavery. Without the history of his relationship to Douglass, we have no idea how this president is willing to risk so much to pass the 13thAmendment. There is no inciting incident, no motivating factor: We are left with just a determined man. And the story suffers for it.”