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PAFF 2013 Review: 'Slavery By Another Name' (Powerful, Eye-Opening Account Of *Lost* American History)

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by Tambay A. Obenson
February 15, 2013 1:20 PM
4 Comments
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Slavery

Screening at the ongoing Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, now in the latter half of this year's run, with 3 days to go...

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.

Watch the 4-minute preview video below:

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4 Comments

  • Aaron | February 18, 2013 10:00 AMReply

    I have this on DVD. People especially black people need to realize that it is still going on today.

  • ao | February 15, 2013 5:22 PMReply

    I agree, I have read the book and seen the film. It should be read/seen by everyone, especially Black people. The information contained in both, address issues still relevant today. The ever increasing rate of incarceration of Black men, the pairing of Black people with criminality, the lack of economic progress of Black people compared with new (and older) immigrant groups, the disparity between Black wages and wages earned by non-Blacks. Even "States Rights" which was the call in the South after the Civil War to prevent the Federal troops from protecting the rights of Black people during the Reconstruction Era.

    So much of todays racial realities in the US is hinged on the policies created and instituted after the Civil War by both Southern white supremacists and their Northern Industrial allies, both of whom needed free and/or low cost labor and colluded to acquire it from newly freed Black folks.

    The book is more comprehensive than the film. But if you don't have time to read the book, the film is an excellent substitute, although it will hopefully inspire you to also read the book.

  • M. | February 15, 2013 2:16 PMReply

    There's an exhibit by the same name by Robert Claiborne Morris that I had the pleasure of installing in a gallery. The pieces incoporated acutual confederate money, slave shackles, and other historic artificats. It was a moving exhibit. The book is...intense.

  • Winn | February 15, 2013 1:29 PMReply

    I've seen this twice on PBS; it just aired again a couple of weeks ago. It is painful and enraging viewing; definitely a must-see.

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