Friday Film Review--"Descendant"
Netflix and Barrack and Michelle Obama’s label, Higher Ground, won the bidding war on Descendent, a documentary that premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”— James Baldwin
This powerful and timely quote by the late James Baldwin declares why documentaries like this one should be part of the historical education and process of accepting our own past, a concept long-overdue in this country.
Although slavery, as an institution, was not outlawed in the United States until 1865, the importation of slaves became illegal in 1808. In 1860, fifty-two years after being forbidden, a wealthy plantation owner near Mobile, Alabama teamed up with a ship owner to smuggle 110 kidnapped Africans into the country. The captives were unloaded and the ship scuttled somewhere in the river channel.
Those captives, ripped from their homeland, culture, families and freedom were then placed among other Africans who’d been enslaved for generations. What a remarkable difference their must have been in the spirit and attitude of these two very different peoples? Once they figured out how to communicate with each other, can you imagine the exchange of ideas?.
Five years later, they were once again free people. Many remained right there on land near the original plantation, only 3 miles north of downtown Mobile. They called it Africatown and later, Plateau.
These descendants have celebrated and treasured the oral history passed down for generations and have always dreamed the actual ship that brought their ancestors might be found. In 2018 National Geographic organized and documented, the search for and discovery of the Clotilda.
Filmmaker Margaret Brown, who grew up in Mobile, brought a myriad of social issues to light, in her well-organized, beautifully filmed and creatively told story of history, hardship and hope. Thanks to this documentary and the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s initiative called the Slave Wrecks Project, we all have the chance to learn much, much, more.
Descendant runs 1 hour and 49 captivating minutes and is not yet rated. Stay tuned for a Netflix release date.
The National Geographic documentary, Clotilda: Last American Slave Ship aired on February 7th and is now available for streaming on Hulu and Disney+.