This Black History Month BET launches its first-ever event miniseries “The Book of Negroes,” a six-part historical drama based on Lawrence Hill’s award-winning, Oprah Winfrey-listed novel (known in the United States as “Someone Knows My Name”). The highly anticipated television event will run over the course of 3 consecutive nights in 2-hour installments starting Monday, February 16, 2015 at 8 PM ET/PT.
“The Book of Negroes” depicts the extraordinary life journey of Aminata Diallo (Aunjanue Ellis) – an indomitable African woman who cuts a swath through a world that is pre-disposed to underestimate her. Kidnapped by slave traders in West Africa and subsequently enslaved in South Carolina, Aminata must navigate her way through the American Revolution in New York, the isolated refuge of Nova Scotia and the treacherous jungles of Sierra Leone before ultimately securing her freedom in England at the dawn of the 19th century.
Directed by Clement Virgo – who also served as co-writer and executive producer, produced by Conquering Lion Pictures, Out of Africa Entertainment, Entertainment One (eOne) and Idelwild Films, the cast features lead actress Aunjanue Ellis, Cuba Gooding Jr., Louis Gossett Jr., Lyriq Bent, Jane Alexander, Ben Chaplin and Allan Hawco.
The actual “Book of Negroes” is a historical document which contains the names and descriptions of 3,000 African American slaves who had to work for the British army during the American Revolution, in order to gain their freedom, and were eventually evacuated by the British by ship to points in Nova Scotia. The book was assembled by Samuel Birch under the direction of Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester. African Americans who escaped to the British during the American Revolutionary War became the first settlement of Black Canadians. Other Black Loyalists were transported to settlements in several islands in the West Indies and some to London. Recorded in 1783, this 150-page document is the only one to have ever recorded Black Americans in a large, detailed scope.
Below you’ll find an episodic breakdown of “The Book of Negroes,” which may serve as a guide (although if you’d rather not know anything at all about the story, you may want to skip this); and underneath, watch the latest trailer:
Hour 1 Premiering Monday, February 16 at 8 PM ET/PT
On her way home from delivering a baby, twelve year-old Aminata Diallo is kidnapped and her parents killed. Forced to march across West Africa to the Atlantic Ocean, she is looked after by Chekura (Lyriq Bent), a young boy sold to help the slavers. They grow close and are put on the same slave ship. Due to her language and midwifery skills, the Ship’s Doctor values Aminata, though she quickly falls in with the other slaves. Aminata relays information and weapons from above deck to the men, leading to a failed uprising. Upon her arrival in Charleston, SC, she is separated from Chekura and sold to Robinson Appleby, an Indigo Plantation owner. Georgia, a caring older woman, nurses her back to health.
Hour 2 Premiering Monday, February 16 at 9 PM ET/PT
Aminata, now grown beautiful, healthy, and literate, is the flower of Robinson Appleby’s Indigo plantation. After several seasons of deflecting Appleby’s advances, Aminata marries Chekura and has his child. Appleby, infuriated, sells her and her child to separate owners. Her new owners, a Jewish Indigo Trader and his wife, Solomon and Rosa Lindo, are more trusting: they treat her as a servant rather than a slave. But after Rosa’s death and the revelation that Solomon brokered the sale of her child, Aminata’s trust is broken. Lindo, desperate for a distraction to ease his grief, sets sail to New York with Aminata, who plots her escape to freedom.
Hour 3 Premiering Tuesday, February 17 at 8 PM ET/PT
Soon after arriving in New York, the American Revolution breaks out, allowing Aminata to escape Solomon Lindo with the help of an influential Black innkeeper named Sam Fraunces (Cuba Gooding Jr.). She soon settles into a Black ghetto called Canvas Town and befriends several locals, teaching them to read and write, while also delivering babies for the British. Chekura arrives in New York, only to leave again after the British Forces offer freedom to any man who fights the Americans. When Aminata finds Chekura has been injured at the Battle of Saratoga she enlists Sam to help smuggle him across enemy lines. Although she succeeds, she returns to find that, with American victory in New England, Slave owners will be returning North to look for escaped slaves.
Hour 4 Premiering Tuesday, February 17 at 9 PM ET/PT
As peace is declared slavers return to New York in search of runaway slaves. Aminata is offered a job by Cpt. John Clarkson of the British Navy to help recruit Black Loyalists to join them in Nova Scotia as free citizens. With renewed vigour, she begins registering thousands into The Book Of Negroes. When it is finally her turn to go, authorities stop her, as a slaver has made a claim upon her. Convinced it is Solomon Lindo returned to New York, she lets Chekura go ahead and is held for trial. In court, it is revealed that Robertson Appleby has made the claim against her, but she is exonerated at the last moment by the testimony of Lindo, who vouches he gave Aminata her freedom. After being freed, she arrives in barren Nova Scotia to find no sign of Chekura.
Hour 5 Premiering Wednesday, February 18 at 8 PM ET/PT
Aminata arrives pregnant in Shelburne, Nova Scotia and is taken in by Daddy Moses (Louis Gossett Jr.). She is surprised to find that work and food are scarce, with the British failing to deliver the land they promised in New York. After losing her baby to a cholera epidemic, she writes an appeal to the British abolitionists on behalf of Daddy Moses and the blacks of Birchtown. Then Aminata manages to find a job as a Printing Assistant. As the open hostility towards black residents comes to a head after the death of a white citizen, Cpt. John Clarkson, a key abolitionist, arrives offering an escape for the black community to a settlement in Sierra Leone. Just as Aminata begins to recruit her community, Chekura arrives and is reluctant to embark on yet another long journey. A violent race riot breaks out in Shelburne, and Chekura is convinced to join his wife on her homeward journey. They set sail with Daddy Moses, bound for Africa.
Hour 6 Premiering Wednesday, February 18 at 9 PM ET/PT
After arriving in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the Loyalists discover that a previous group of settlers had been sacked and raided by the local ruler. As a result Aminata becomes more engrossed in the idea of returning to her village of Bayo. The local tribes, however, are unwilling to support her and Aminata must enlist the help of Dr. Falconbridge, a longtime resident of Freetown, to approach a group of slave traders to guide her and Chekura inland. They are soon double-crossed and Aminata is forced to flee for her life. After a local tribe takes her in and nurses her back to health, she realizes she must let go of her dream of returning to Bayo, and sets out to London to tell her life story to the world.
Watch the latest trailer below, which emphasizes the actually Book of Negroes, and not necessarily Aminata’s story, as seen in previous, longer trailers: