Based on the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name by Wall Street Journal writer Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name challenges the assumptions that slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863.
Directed by Long-time Spike Lee editor (as well as director and producer in his own right) Sam Pollard, incorporating re-enactments, interviewes with historians and descendants of both the slavers and the enslaved, punctuated by steady narration by Laurence Fishburne, the 90-minute film narrates the years after the Civil War, when treacherous new forms of forced labor emerged in the American South, as white American backlash against Emancipation and Reconstruction kept hundreds of thousands of African Americans in bondage.
Thanks to Blackmon’s extensive research, the film details the conspiracy by southern whites after the Civil War, who manipulated a morally corrupt legal system (thanks in part to the legal exploitation of a single clause in the 13th Amendment), all in an effort to keep blacks enslaved (at first free after Emancipation, and then forced back into involuntary bondage, to work in the mines, quarries, lumber camps and urban factories) either as convicts based on extremely tenuous charges, or in nebulous forms of never-ending debt, and are thus forced to work off that debt.
The roots of black America’s deeply-seated suspicions of the criminal justice system are very-well illuminated here; the rampant imprisonment of black men today has its history in an economic system that depended on human savagery and coerced labor, and the film should challenge the widely-held belief that black Americans tend toward lawlessness.
The film also tells stories of the courageous men and women who fought tirelessly against these disreputable practices, eventually proving to be successful.
Uncovering many stories of slaves and their descendants, painting a devastating picture of the unsightly and horrific practices that kept hundreds of thousands of black Americans enslaved for many decades after slavery was abolished in the USA, Slavery By Another Name should serve as an eye-opening account of a significant yet so rarely talked about 80-year chapter of American history during which blacks were subject to racial degradation in the service of white supremacy and cheap labor, helping to explain why black Americans made so little economic progress before the civil rights movement, the effects of which still very much reverberate today.
In short, it should enlighten and then piss you off after you see it; and what you choose to do with all that new knowledge and rage is entirely up to you.
Slavery By Another Name should be required viewing; although I imagine the book, which I haven’t read, is even more comprehensive, incisive and inciting.
After it’s Sundance Film Festival debut last week, Slavery By Another Name will next screen on Saturday February 11th, at the 2012 Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in Los Angeles, a Part 1 of the festival’s Saturday Night Special series.
That screening will be followed by a TV debut on PBS, on February 13th (during Black History Month).
So most of you should get an opportunity to see it for yourselves.
In the 9-minute video below watch behind-the-scenes footage that features Pollard, executive producer Douglas Blackmon and several of the descendants whose stories are told in the film: