x Preface There are biopics and fictional films, high-budget studio and low-budget independent films, a miniseries and TV movie, a revisionist ahistorical film, and release dates that span more than one hundred years. Five were directed by Black directors many were written by Black writ- ers. Each chapter reveals how accurate and truthful or distorted or exploit- ative the depictions of slavery are, and historical background, privileging Black primary sources and scholarship when possible, is provided. The slav- ery scholar Eric Foner recently noted that “A host of new sources, many of them making available the perspective of African Americans, has appeared” (2022). The rags-to-riches legacy of Richard Fleischer’s controversial, subversive Mandingo (1975) is delineated. It’s a sensational movie whose reassessment by critics ranges from being “scandalous racist trash” to a “masterpiece” of race issues in America, and its brutally honest depiction of the evils of slavery shows the militancy of the enslaved as well as a sexually explicit, tender interracial love story. The enduring revelatory power of Roots, the phenomenal miniseries that riveted and moved the nation in 1977 and was rebooted in 2016, is probed. Roots enabled a mass audience to watch and learn about day-to-day family and work life during slavery. Nightjohn (1996) is a television movie about the lengths the enslaved went to, despite the harsh punishment, in order to achieve literacy. It’s based on Gary Paulsen’s eponymous young adult novel and directed by Charles Burnett, an alumnus of the L.A. Rebellion, a group of visionary Black film- makers who met as UCLA students starting in the 1960s. Haile Gerima is also an alumnus, and his independently made, mystical time-traveling film Sankofa (1993)—which had been hard to find—is, thanks to filmmaker Ava DuVernay, available on Netflix. Two biopics—Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation (2016), about the traveling preacher Nat Turner’s Insurrection, and Kasi Lemmons’s Harriet (2019), about Harriet Tubman, the fearless and indefatigable Underground Railroad conductor—profile deeply religious, prophetic resistance leaders and visionaries who fearlessly fought the status quo to abolish slavery, the law of the Southern land. Steve McQueen’s bracing 12 Years a Slave (2013), based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 best-selling memoir, won the Academy Award for Best Pic- ture and made history for being the first film directed by a Black director to win the coveted award. Quentin Tarantino’s ahistorical and ultraviolent Django Unchained (2012)—about a formerly enslaved man turned bounty hunter—was inspired by Mandingo (1975). And Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (1997)— about the 1839 mutiny led by Joseph Cinque, a captured African, whose triumphant trial went up to the Supreme Court—presents a riveting and inspiring chapter in American history, a chapter in which despite the odds against them, captured Africans were able to return home. Cinque asked Americans to “give us free,” and they did.
Previous Page Next Page