Was "Roots" Enough? Slavery And The Holocaust In American Movies

by Tambay A. Obenson
June 23, 2011 10:39 AM
46 Comments
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Sergio's post earlier today (Can A Serious Film Be Made About American Slavery?), reminded me of an editorial/survey I posted on the old Shadow And Act site, back in the fall of 2009, titled Was Roots Enough? Slavery And The Holocaust In American Movies. I reposted it below, since a lot of you weren't readers of the site at the time, as a companion piece to Sergio's, looking at the matter from a different angle. The title should give you some clues as to what my approach was.

Here ya go:

The "slavery" I'm of course referring to in this case is the transatlantic slave trade, during which primarily African people where shipped from West and Central Africa by Europeans, to the colonies of the then so-called "New World" (North and South America primarily), from the 16th to the 19th centuries, to work as unpaid labor - a Maafa, or holocaust, that led to the deaths of many millions of African men and women, who struggled under imperialism, colonialism, invasion, oppression, dehumanization and exploitation, with residual effects that are still evident today.

But don't call it a holocaust... that word seems apparently reserved for that other holocaust - the mass murder of millions of Jews by the Nazi regime during World War II, which has come to be known unequivocally as THE Holocaust.

Both were undeniably great, great tragedies, and a testament to the malevolence of man. Coincidentally (or maybe not) the word "malevolence" (which I use on purpose) reads almost like male-violence, even though that isn't the true origin of the word.

But I digress...

Was Roots enough? Is it just me, or is there a significant disparity between the number of movies made about, as well as overall interest in the Holocaust, than about slavery?

Some time ago, during a conversation about cinema and representation with a friend, we both wondered about the level of interest from black audiences, in films about some of those darker days in our history - specifically, films about slavery and its consequences. We compared "our" interest with Jewish interest in films about the Holocaust; which then led us to wonder if there was any similarity whatsoever in the number and kinds of films produced about slavery, and those produced about the Holocaust. Our conversation shifted around a lot, but, at the core of it all was the realization that there definitely don't seem to be anywhere near the number of films about slavery, as there have been about the Holocaust, nor overall interest.

We did a little research via IMDB, searching using keywords like "slavery," "Africa," "transatlantic," "holocaust," "nazi," "hitler," and more, plus combinations of 2 or more terms, and the results were mind-numbing, in huge favor of the holocaust and similar matters!

But IMDB aside, I don't think one has to dig so deeply to be made aware of the disparities. A quick thought-session, recalling films over the last 25 years that have touched in some way on each subject, will suffice. During our conversation, we could immediately name as many as 15 American-made films that touched on some aspect of the Holocaust and its effects. And there are likely many more we forgot or simply don't know about. On the other hand, we could only name three American-made films that dealt with slavery in any manner, released in the last 25 years - Steven Spielberg's Amistad, Jonathan Demme's Beloved, & Edward Zwick's Glory (although, really, Glory was more about Matthew Broderick's Robert Gould Shaw character, than about the infantry of black men he commanded). Lars Von Trier, a Dane, visited the subject matter in 2005's Manderlay. If there've been others that I'm not remembering, please let me know in the comments section below.

I should mention that I'm referring primarily to films produced, and/or distributed by a major or mini American film company, whether for a limited, or a wide audience. However, even if we went beyond that, and included independent filmmakers and distributors, I doubt the results would be all that different.

I should make it clear that my intent here is not necessarily to weigh the significance of either tragedy, alleging that one deserves more representation than the other, or vice-versa, or create conflict between Jews and blacks. I'm simply pointing out a fact that I think needs to be addressed, whether solely in discussion, or taken even further - and that is, frankly, there seems to be very little interest in ensuring that we remember our ancestors who lived under the oppression and dehumanization of the slave trade, while, the Jews, clearly and confidently, are doing everything they can to ensure that we DON'T forget the evils of the Holocaust.

There's very little interest from studio execs, certainly, but, and even more importantly, there seems to be very little interest from us (black people). Why? There just doesn't seem to be a similar kind of passion and insistence on keeping the memory of OUR holocaust alive and well, just as has been the case for Jewish people. We've seen a variety of stories told with some connection to the Holocaust - whether about the Holocaust itself, or about those who were directly affected by it in some way, negatively or positively, as it happened, or in the present-day.

I've heard that one reason why there's little interest from us in movies about slavery, is due to how difficult the subject matter is to watch on screen. Tough, I say! My concern here is that there's a danger in essentially suppressing, or not recognizing this history, and all those stories that haven't been told. Yes, it's not exactly "fun" to watch films on the matter, but, I think we forget that, just as films about the Holocaust haven't always been directly about the Holocaust itself, films about slavery don't necessarily have to be directly consumed with the human tragedy of it all. There were families during those 400 years; there was love, commitment, and even moments of joy and happiness; there was comedy; there was bravery; there were rebels, runaways; there was cowardice; there was intellect; there were mornings, afternoons and nights; there was sleep; there were dreams...

I think you get my point!

Quentin Tarantino has expressed interest in making a film about John Brown, the white abolitionist. Naturally, his interest is in telling the story of a white abolitionist, as fascinating as the account of Brown's life reads. But how about Frederick Douglass? I'll wager that we'll likely see a John Brown abolitionist film, before the Toussaint L'Ouverture pic that Danny Glover's been working on for what seems like forever, even though L'Ouverture's accomplishments were arguably far more impressive, and interesting than Brown's.

So, as I started off asking, was Roots enough for "us"? Was it so challenging to watch that after seeing it, we'd had our fill? Did that put the proverbial nail in the coffin on "slavery" movies? Further, why do you think "we" show little interest in movies about that unattractive part of our history? Or do you think I'm wrong in assuming that, and have proof otherwise? Do you recognize any importance in keeping that history alive - not necessarily clinging to it, but at least remembering it through the cinema, and ensuring that others don't forget?

It's quite ironic that the three films that immediately come to mind on the subject of slavery were directed by white men - two of them Jewish - given the context of this post. None of our more prominent black directors have demonstrated a desire to revisit that time in our history - to my knowledge anyway. Should they insist, whether pushing studios to finance, and distribute them, or find a way to get them done themselves? Recall Wendell B Harris Jr's pitch for a lynching retribution pic which fell on deaf ears? Would you see that film, in much the same way we all flocked to be entertained by Tarantino's revisionist Nazi comeuppance movie, Inglorious Basterds, the most recent studio picture on the Holocaust? Octavia Butler's Kindred has been optioned over and over, since its publishing, yet, no one has been able to raise the funds to get the book adapted, even though I think it's as commercial a property that touches on the subject of slavery, as any you'd find.

Questions... questions... questions... This is a very important part of this country's rather short history, and it seems as if we're already starting to sweep it underneath dirt, while the Jews are doing exactly the opposite with their own tragic historical account, with a significant difference being that slavery took place on American soil, at the bloody hands of the white men who ran this country, wrote its laws, and helped shape what it's become today; so, while the US of A joined Allied forces to fight Hitler and company, and help free the Jews from medical experiments at Auschwitz, back home, the same great US of A was carrying out its own medical experiments with black American men in Tuskegee, Alabama, all while Jim Crow laws were in full effect. Given all of those facts, one would expect that there'd be a lot more direct representation of slavery and its effects on film - dare I say, even moreso than of the Jewish Holocaust.

And to reiterate, I should make it clear again, that my intent here is not to create conflict between Jews and blacks, by implying one tragedy deserves recognition more than the other. No, I'm not anti-Semitic. This is bigger than all of that, and there's something at work here that needs to be addressed!

Chime in below if you dare...

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46 Comments

  • Joanne Burkan Scaglione | August 18, 2013 11:29 PMReply

    Clearly the fact that the Jews own the Hollywood film industry, I
    Would venture to guess has something to do
    With their choice of movies to produce... And explains
    Why more holocaust movies are made than
    Movies on slavery. They have made many great
    movies on slavery but plenty more on the holocaust.
    Don't blame them... It's their heritage and they
    Have the power to choose.

  • Sania | May 12, 2012 5:53 AMReply

    I am not African American, I'm not even American. I'm a brown Muslim Australian.
    I think there are not enough films about the history of slavery in America and the life of African Americans over the past 3 centuries. But you might not realise how much people can identify with a race which has suffered. I was watching a period film (can't remember the name) and it had a disturbing lynching scene in it. Just before the lynching, a white man says something like "these n**** need to be taught a lesson - they are threatening our way of life". I was so shocked because right after 9/11 all I can remember is American politicians saying "we need to go to war - our way of life has been threatened". That film was just so thought provoking and made me feel like I had a connection with African Americans. I'd definitely pay to go see a film on the subject - when someone makes the next one.

  • Nadine | May 12, 2012 7:44 AM

    btw - SLAVERY BY ANOTHER NAME (full video): http://video.pbs.org/video/2176766758

  • Nadine | May 12, 2012 7:42 AM

    ...beautiful.

  • StacyB | November 29, 2011 3:28 PMReply

    A lot of the compassion and interest understandably comes from the fact that the Bible is a book about the sufferings and triumphs of Jews and so many persons of African descent have been taught from and reference it for generations. How many of their households have a book that teaches of the pre-arab enslavement slavery of their ancestors and/or pre-transatlantic slave trade, which is a magnificent history and even the brave resistance of some communities on the African continent against colonialism and forced religious conversion. Where would their interest come from? I am not african-american but believe me the stereotype from african-american tv shows and movies are impressionable on millions of young people world-wide and in fact very few seek to impart any real information about the african heritage. Don't complain now.

  • Jeanne Veillette Bowerman | July 20, 2011 3:53 AMReply

    In 2012, PBS will air a documentary called "Slavery by Another Name". It is based on the New York Times Best Seller and 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. It's author, Douglas A. Blackmon is the Executive Producer of the documentary, and the director is the Oscar-nominated Samuel Pollard.

    I've teamed with the author and wrote a feature film adaptation of the book that we're pitching to actors and production companies now.

    I'm sharing this project with you not to promote our work in a selfish way, but to give some hope that an historical expose is out there waiting to be told. We'll find a home for it when we find people brave enough to tackle the grim subject matter.

    I also wanted to mention that Schindler's List was made because it was Spielberg's pet project. We just need to find someone who is as passionate about this subject as we are, and the African American's plight will be on screen too.

    I may add the author of the book is white... as am I. We aren't all afraid of the truth.

  • Satya | July 9, 2011 12:35 PMReply

    I would love to see Octavia Butler's Kindred hit the big screen. She is a truly amazing woman and author, and I have made it a personal mission of mine to read everything she's ever published. For more about my journey, check this out:

    http://seedtoharvest.wordpress.com/the-blog/

  • dee | June 29, 2011 6:58 AMReply

    Tambay, there have been a total 328 Holocaust films both doc & narrative since the 1940's. You can count them on the wikipedia website. African Americans (12 %) are a much larger percentage of the population than Jewish Americans (1.5 %). It would be nice to see the movie industry become more inclusive and open to telling everyone's stories. America was founded on Slavery and it is a very important part of our history which should be explored.

  • JMac | June 25, 2011 8:38 AMReply

    See man that's why I love this blog. I did see the Pianist - before I found out Polanski was behind it. Otherwise....

    Still, I need a documentary, lots of documentaries. I'd rather see the hard truth than watch an entertaining star filled story wrapped up in a bow.

  • autirose | June 25, 2011 5:20 AMReply

    Future generations need this information on film, told from the perspective of the slave narratives, our scholars, psychologists, Egyptologists, activists,etc. These must be told in a more positive, teaching, uplifting way, placing emphasis on their strength of character and intellegence of the societies and their techniques used to endure and overcome. Also lovestories and those who attained plantations.

    Great that the film industry has been called by destiny to do it's part. They have plenty of historical facts/truths.
    Responsible for emphazing the difference between the institution of slavery and that there is no such geneology, slavery. Emphasis must be put on being born with African origins not a slave. That was an evil instution our foreparents were forced into.

  • X-abian Montsho Jahi | June 25, 2011 4:19 AMReply

    NO! A serious film about the Greatest Holocaust of them all, the Black Hull-Ocaust CANNOT be made because it would expose the Jewish role in the Slave Trade! Also, it would justify the Jewish holocaust as a payback, or Wrath from God for their role in the Black Hull-Ocaust.

    Hollywood is "*80.%" JEWry controlled, and they make a killing off of feel sorry for us Jewish donations and milking of countries for holocaust funds; do you really think they'll ever expose their devilish roles and world wealth ties came from the backs of Blacks and Afrikan-Americans?

  • AbsolutelyAgree | June 25, 2011 2:18 AMReply

    I thoroughly agree with the fact that far more compassion is shown for the Holocaust than for Slavery. In fact, that had been one of my thoughts for a long time, so I'm glad to see I'm not the only one. Far too often I've heard it said that we should have gotten over slavery by now, yet I never hear the same thing said about the holocaust. I am generally annoyed when I discover how many want to forget slavery, yet memorialize the Holocaust. Both were horrific, unnecessary events, however, slavery lasted longer, killed more, and in comparison, its victims have yet to gain a retributive benefit from its existence. I was actually a bit incensed when I saw the latest X-Men movie that started with a rememberance of a Holocaust event that feuled a revenge rampage. Incensed because I wondered why it couldn't have started with a slavery event. The slavery history must be told over and over and with all the gory details. It is AMERICAN history and it must be a solemn reminder of what really happened and the foundation of African Americans' existence in America. The depiction should always be true and authentic regardless of who refuses to embrace it and who is offended by it.

  • CareyCarey | June 25, 2011 1:52 AMReply

    As I was reading down through the comments, one really caught my eye. It was the one (4 down) addressed/started with @ Jmac. Now, since the commenters name does not appear until the end of the post/comment, I was thinking, this person has to be Jug (writing style) or someone else that views a lot of movies. I mean, as I was reading his list of Holocaust related movies (in which I've seen them all, and they where all goodies and many were great! I loved The Boy In The Striped Pajamas) I thought, who is the hell is this person? Although Sergio has seen every movie ever made, I knew it wasn't him because, well, it just wasn't his writing style. But then there it was, Tambay was on his job!

    I've always said that Tambay does not jump in the comments that often, but when he does, he is going to bring something we can feel.

    Jmac, first it was Jungle Fever, now this. *lol*

  • E Forde | June 24, 2011 11:36 AMReply

    Can I throw into this discussion what to me as the ultimate (If you can use the word in this context) slavery film.
    I'm talking about Jacopetti & Prosperi Italian Mondo film Addio Zio Tom (Farewell Uncle Tom) which probably gets close to what slavery was like as most if not all of the film is based on documented fact.
    However the films not without its problems (Its still one of the few films that still Ban in the UK). In fact the US version of the film has at least 13 minutes cut from it as deemed to inflammatory.
    Heres's the trailer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFJQ-XHcUGg

    I think part of the problem is film can and will nnever do justice to what happened. People don't want a sanitized version of what happen we want to see the truth and lets face it no Studio is going to give you that, hence the apathy on the subject.

  • Laura | June 24, 2011 11:00 AMReply

    I think that the Black American audience can be primed to see a film that deals with that era in their history. I think of films like "Buck and the Preacher". Though is not a movie about slavery per se, but about the post-reconstruction era. I thought is was one of the few film that dealt with historical black era without the white protagonist.

    I remember watching it as a child on TV totally fixated. I thought the Ruby Dee character was so so awesome. I remember as a little girl thinking to myself I want to be bad and bold like her. That movie had made a major impression on me.

    It was action and adventure to me. I was with my family watching it for entertainment. We gathered around the TV with excitement because by father loved the film (Just like the Godfather and a lot of 70's film the showed on TV in the late 70's early 80's) For us "Buck and THe Preacher" was not a "castor oil" film

    The film implanted in my developing mind the concept that "cullud folk" were heroic and proactive in shaping their destiny. That was not formally taught to me. Nor that was not anything the elders in our family could articulate to us children.

    I'm curious. What do other Blacks who are not American Blacks (as in the ethnic group) want to see in a narrative dealing with the trans atlantic slave trades. This is a multi volume story. Almost Encyclopedia Brittanica in scope (for the youguns - life before wikipedia.)

    On a side note, I notice in Case Depart that the music in the trailer was African - American southern folk music (blues, work songs,) That stood out for me. I did not expect to hear that. Did anyone else find that curious.

  • Neziah | June 24, 2011 10:00 AMReply

    Nothing can top "Roots", it was phenomenal, although I haven't seen Charles Burnett's Nat Turner doc, which I heard great things about, and I haven't seen "Namibia: The Struggle For Liberation".

  • macaroni | June 24, 2011 9:09 AMReply

    Josef Stalin made Hitler, Pol Pot, the masterminds of the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians, Idi Amin and every other genocidal maniac in history look like Mister Rogers on happy pills. He systematically snuffed out between 20 and 30 million of his own people between his ascendency to power in 1922 and the onset of the Second World War. The despicable acts of this lunatic made slavery look like a beach party and I can recall no movie (othe than an occasional PBS special) that
    documented his savagery. The slave experience will always be America's greatest shame as the Holocaust will remain Germany's but rest assured, as
    unjust and immeasureably cruel as they were, it was far surpassed by one Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili.

  • tambay | June 24, 2011 8:39 AMReply

    @JMac -

    I'd most definitely throw "Inglorius Basterds" in there. It was a revisionist story, but still focused squarely on the the occupation of France by the Nazis, with all the real-life central figures well-represented, including the Fuhrer himself.

    You're also forgetting "The Pianist," "Defiance," "The Reader," "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas," "Downfall," "The Grey Zone," and even "Everything is Illuminated." I'm sure I'm missing some. And these are all films that were released in theaters, some even were nominated and/or won Academy Awards, and were seen on more than a couple of screens, and are still referenced today.

    The civil rights movies you mentioned where almost all made in the early to mid 90s. 1 was made in the 80s. And I don't think I'd even count the Medgar Evers story or even the King TV mini series.

    The Holocaust films I list above were all made in the last 10 years. If I were to go back another 10 years to include those titles in the 90s, the list will probably be twice as long.

    And if I included movies that dealt with the Holocaust indirectly, or as an aside, like those you mentioned, it's again an even longer list. And if I threw in documentaries, TV movies, series, the list grows.

    And I'm not talking about "in-your-face" brutal stories about slavery, or the civil rights movement or the Holocaust; but each has to be absolutely central to the film's story, or revolve around it; not just mentioned in a passing conversation, or as a subplot.

    And the other thing is, as is the case with a couple of the Civil Rights films you mentioned, a problem as I see it is that the stories are often built around the white starring characters. There very often has to be a central white man or woman on the side of "good" for the film to be greenlit. Save for a film like "Schindler's List," such is rarely the case when we consider the wealth of Holocaust movies, especially when compared to Civil Rights or Civil War/Slavery movies.

    So, I'm still not convinced otherwise. But I will definitely invest some time in creating a proper list for comparison, and share here once I'm done.

  • soma lux | June 24, 2011 8:26 AMReply

    the civil rights era is JUST A CHAPTER in our holocaust. let's keep it all in perspective now. get your minds right.

  • RGordon | June 24, 2011 8:25 AMReply

    The problem with Hollywood's depiction of Western-style slavery is that most white (and probably most Black) filmmakers are obsessed with the wretched excesses of it. Black humanity is reduced to suffering and exploitation. Even if a film has scenes that portray hopeful, prideful enslaved people, the images from all these films that stay with you (because they are so prevalent) are the images of Blacks being beaten and raped and otherwise brutalized. I can't remember the number of white people who approached me after they saw 'Roots' and "apologized" for what my people had been through. Not a single one of them mentioned the opening scene when baby Kunta was held up to the sky and his father intoned "Behold, the only thing greater than yourself.," which was one of the most powerful scenes in the film for me.

    No, we don't need any more slavery-themed movies because no one can make them right. Just once, I'd like to see a slave being led to the whipping post, shirt stripped off, hands tied - and then have the camera switch to the faces of the assembled white mob, in slow-motion watching neck veins bulge as the white tyrant raises and swings the whip; seeing the fear and anticipation on the faces of white children as they learn what it means to hold power. The only sounds would be their sounds - the whipper's labored grunt, the audiences' cheers and sighs. Afterwards, the shot would follow the white people as they disassembled and walked away, back into their lives of detached privilege. There would NOT be a subsequent close-up of a lacerated Negro back, loved ones applying bacon grease, praying to a non-existent christian god for salvation. The incident would now be over for us the viewer as it was for the white perpetrators. Could anyone even dare shoot a scene like this? Could anyone dare highlight the depravity of people who would stand by and revel at the sight of a brutal beating?

  • BuffaloSoldier9 | June 24, 2011 7:45 AMReply

    How are a people kept down? ‘Never know' their history. Let the true history flow like water. The lie is easier to believe than the truth. The truth shall set you free.

    "If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated."
    Dr. Carter G. Woodson 1875 – 1950

    “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
    Marcus Garvey 1887-1940

    "A tree without roots can bare no fruit, it will die."
    Erich Martin Hicks 1952 - Present

    Keep telling that history, our history:

    Read the novel; Rescue at Pine Ridge, "RaPR", a great story of Black military history...the first generation of Buffalo Soldiers.

    The 7th Cavalry was entrapped again, after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn't for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would of been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry.

    Read the novel, “Rescue at Pine Ridge”, 5 stars Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the youtube trailer commercial...and visit the website http://www.rescueatpineridge.com

    I know you’ll enjoy the novel. I wrote the story that embodied the Native Americans, Outlaws and African-American/Black Soldiers, from the south to the north, in the days of the Native American Wars with the approaching United States of America. This story is about, brutality, compassion, reprisal, bravery, heroism and gallantry. Read the novel, Rescue at Pine Ridge, the story of the rescue of the famed 7th Cavalry by the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers.

    The novel was taken from my mini-series movie of the same title, “RaPR” to keep my story alive. Hollywood has had a lot of strikes and doesn’t like telling our stories…its been “his-story” of history all along…until now. The movie so far has attached, Bill Duke directing, Hill Harper, Glynn Turman, James Whitmore Jr. and a host of other major actors in which we are in talks with.

    When you get a chance, also please visit our Alpha Wolf Production website at; http://www.alphawolfprods.com and see our other productions, like Stagecoach Mary, the first Black Woman to deliver mail for the United States Postal System in Montana, in the 1890's, “spread the word”.

    Peace.

  • JMac | June 24, 2011 7:28 AMReply

    Back online now. I noticed so far that no one has mentioned the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Came to me last night even though it's one of those films almost everybody remembers.

    Anyway, Jewish Holocaust films - The only films I remember that dealt with this directly without it being a general WWII or Nazi film was Schindler's List, Life is Beautiful, Sophie's Choice (sort of), and Judgment in Nuremburg (maybe?). The rest would be tv movies but they still weren't "concentration camp" stories where they're shoving your face into the abuses committed. I'm assuming when you're talking about slavery movies you want it to be shown in all its ugliness and not just an aside to the film i.e. Down in the Delta intimated about slavery but it wasn't the focus of the movie. There was some HBO film about a Jewish American federal agent going undercover to ferret out old Nazis where they'd mention the skin lampshades, swastika baby booties, kill the jew video games etc... Remember a few documentaries but they probably fall in the category of works very few people actually saw. Don't think films like Cabaret, Sound of Music, Shining Through, Boys from Brazil fit the jewish holocaust movie definition at all. Asides from documentaries, it seems filmmakers shy away from the gas chambers, medical experimentation, stack of dead skinny bodies part of the story. I would have to say Schindler's List is the only well known fictionalized account of those events. Can't comment on Inglorius Basterds since I didn't watch it - wasn't interested.

    Popular civil rights movies (with realistic accounts of violence and mistreatment) - Mississippi Burning, A Time to Kill, X, Ghosts of Mississippi, Hair Spray (kind of - integration of a local dance show in an offbeat, zany comedy - there was a police beating protestors scene in the original. I didn't see the remake), The Medgar Evers Story, King the Mini Series (yes I know those two were tv movies but almost everybody watched them like Roots). There's probably more, especially biographies but I can't attest to how popular they were in their time. Some people might mention Brian's Song and the Jackie Robinson Story. Overall, it seems there may be more black civil rights movies regardless of whether they were major studio films or made for tv movie - depending on how strictly you define jewish holocaust movies. Someone who's a real movie buff would have to do the research.

    I do agree any film on slavery needs to be a documentary (if it's not a nice violence filled rebellion flick w/o a white savior). It's one of those periods in history where the truth is worse than fiction and a fictionalized movie needs some kind of happy uplifting ending or else nobody is going to watch it, esp. not black people.

  • iceman j | June 24, 2011 7:05 AMReply

    I strongly agree that we need more motion picture films, television shows on ABC, NBC, CBS, TNT, and Lifetime, as well as HBO, and Cinemax type series and movie exclusives that tells the many stories be it fact or ficition based on fact that occured during the time frame of slavery!

    There isn't a producer, director, writer, actor, or HOLYWOOD studio on this planet who can tell that they CAN'T RESEARCH or CREATE a story about our ancestors that reflect the truth, the comedy, the horror, the love, the imagination, or the dreams!!

    Look at all of the movies and that were created to tell EUROPEAN and AMERICAN HISTORY and keep popping up every year over the past few years....TROY, MASTERS and COMMANDER, THE PATRIOT, BRAVEHEART, GAME OF THRONES HBO, 300, GLADIATOR, THE LIST GOES ON...ALL GOOD MOVIES or SHOWS...BUT WHAT ABOUT OUR STORY?

    GREEN LIGHT OUR STORIES HOLLYWOOD AND REMIND EVERY AMERICAN, ESPECIALLY THE TEA PARTY AND REPUBLICANS, BLACK PEOPLE WHO FORGOT ABOUT ROOTS OR NEVER SEEN IT, AND EVERYBODY WHO FORGET THAT IS WAS ONLY 40 ODD YEARS AGO THAT DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING WAS ASSASSINATED AND WE WERE IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA!!!
    REMIND, REMIND, REMIND, REMIND, REMIND!!!!!
    NEVER FORGET ABOUT HOW AMERICA WAS REALLY CREATED AND HOW WE ARE STILL PROGRESSING AT A SNAIL'S PACE BECAUSE OF SLAVERY!! THANK GOODNESS WE LIVE IN THE TIMES WE ARE LIVING IN TODAY....BUT WE STILL NEED MOVIES, TV SHOWS, AND DOCUMENTARIES TO REMIND AMERICA...YOU ARE NOT OFF THE HOOK BECAUSE WE FINALLY HAVE THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESIDENT....THERE'S A MOTION PICTURE MOVIE RIGHT THERE IN ITSELF! GET TO WRITING!!

  • Pittsburgh | June 24, 2011 5:28 AMReply

    Just want to make a few comments:

    Roots was enough for me-only because it was all I had. My mother was told by her mother to get and education and don't come back. You don't want your hildren to grow up fearful or angry so she didn't tell me anything except not to trust whit epeople. From her experience they could be evil. But life outside of her home taught me that not eveyone loved me (black peiople). I have a 9-year old daughter and I would like for her to hear, see and experience as much as she can about our history so that white folks won't be telling her her history (or skipping over it) somewhere in college.

    I think the made for television movie Momma' Flora's Family was an excellent story that took the family members through different eras. This is one of my top five for inspiration. But i agree, not many MODERN movies.

    Thank you for the coment on museums. I was headed right there in my post. What about the decades in between? Slavery, Civil Rights, and Black President. Was there not progress during other peiords in time even if it wasn't considered significant enough? If not for us, for our children...those that will come after.

    From what I have bene told attending a black public school that can nurture who you are and where your people are from was our greatest loss.

    Thank.

  • Tinisi Luqman | June 24, 2011 5:27 AMReply

    People of the disapora need to be introduced build on history, film, commentary, etc such as embodied in these sites, books, etc:

    africanancestry.com
    ancestry.com
    timbuctufoundation.org
    dzertclub.com
    the Kemet, Ethiopian, Nubian, Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Kanem, Bornu civilizations, to name a few
    Books:
    From Man to Superman, Nature Knows No Color Line, From Sumer to Timbuktu-Rudolph Windsor,
    African Mathematicians and Scientists- Ancient and Modern
    Black Bibical Heritage of the Bible Dr. John Johnson
    The Black Presence of the Bible-
    Africans, Pre-Islam, Eight Centuries of Muslims in America, They Came Before Columbus-Leron Barrett
    Facts:
    30,000 years ago Africans arrived in Austalia
    4,000 years ago 3Ethiopian women journeyed
    to Greece and taught trigonomy to the Greeks.
    2000 years ago Africans from Guinea Bisaul settled in the Amazon forest.
    Africans from Mali(Shaqura) sailed to the Americas -
    In the 14th century, Nicaragua was named after a Nigerian king who voyaged there with his people,
    Christopher Columbus had an African navigator on one of his ships. Other Africans led leadership roles with his fleets.
    Too much time is spend on our persecution by others and ourselves. What else do you have to offer in the knowledge of our people? There is more beauty and knowledge for us to learn and be entertained about concerning our people.
    Peace be with you,
    Tinisi Waajid Luqman





    Brother Tinis Waajid Luqman

  • CareyCarey | June 24, 2011 5:09 AMReply

    Flip it, smack it, rub it around, only a fool would say slavery doesn't still wear the crown. Civil rights, the bill of no right and the Holocaust too, they're all the same flu. Flip it, smack it, rub it around, only a clown would say... we shouldn't go back there.

    Red, white and blue are only for a few, that wear the right colors. They say nay, niggas, don't say, what we did to you.

    They write the books, those history hooks, that change the color of their skin. Negroes too, those special kind of fools, they say don't you dare go back there. They have their cabin in the sky and don't mind a lie. "Who me, not me they're known to cry, as they poke their fellow brothas in their eyes.

    Pompous peacocks, politicians too, work their magic on educated fools. You have your rights, so why cry now, an up lifter, a new picture? GTF away from me.

    Slavery’s in the past, I got a new blast, something you need to hear. The slave’s history may sound blistery but master really loved yawl. There’s Huck and Buck and Old Jim Crow, where would yawl be if we didn’t love thee.

    Rub it, smack it, spin it around, but it ain’t no joke, there’s lines of n*ggas falling for the Okie Doke. No way, Jose, they say, “I can’t wear the slaves shoes, I’m an educated fool”

  • Melissa | June 24, 2011 5:08 AMReply

    I also prefer movies about Africa that are not about: war, idi amin, genital mutilation, AIDS, congo violence, blood diamonds, tribes.

    Head in the sand again? Who knows... I never fork out money for those. Slavery/colonization are on that list too.

    But when you take all the bad stuff out, what's left to tell about African and Black people, to us and the rest of the world? We as Africans/Blacks are so connected to 'suffering/pity/sadness/sorrow/horror', your mind almost makes a blank when thinking of what 'happy' story you could tell.

    Does this not affect our psyche in any way? Why are our minds bound this way? Everything is always NEGATIVE. Think about it.

    Where are the stories about African royalty like Queen Nzingha, who fought off slavers? Or the tribes that were visited by UFOs in Mali? Or the women who went to battle in West Africa? Or the African version of Creation story? Or the Black American invetors? madame CJ Walker, first female millionaire in America?
    Let's start to make these stories too on a grand scale.

    Phew!

  • jackieflo | June 24, 2011 5:04 AMReply

    Slavery in America is the basis of our society. The DNA of the era of slavery is the root of race relations in these USA today. The character of the African-American culture was established during this era. Why can't we accept it and bring the activities relating to slavery into the forefront in order that we can relate to what the Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights movement was precipated upon.

    I studied U.S. History in a major Northern State University during the early 1950s and was informed that a study of Negro life was not a valid subject matter While we have come a long way since then, there is still a void which should be addressed to inform the general public of the true nature of slavery.

    I admire your postionand hope that you continue to advocate for visual presentation of the people who were "Born In Bondage" and those who held them in bondage..

  • Melissa | June 24, 2011 5:00 AMReply

    I am an African woman and I would rather see a film about african americans connecting with other Africans around the world. That might be a sad movie in its own right(for both parties)! We need to form a nuited front and look to the future.

    I'm not interested in slavery or colonization movies, personally. I prefer life-affirming productions. Head in the sand? Maybe. But it's done well enough for me so far. I loved Frederick Douglass's Narratives and Chinua Achebe's books though.

  • A sista | June 24, 2011 4:54 AMReply

    I have been trying very hard to get the true and different story of slavery out via Malcolm X's own words! If there is anyone out there is TRULY interested, please email me.asistaceo@aol.com

  • Keilei Adams-Brown | June 24, 2011 4:46 AMReply

    I have to agree with you. I would love to see more about what has happen to our people I believe that if we see what happen in the past we can make sure we don't relive it. We are so much still in that slave mentally that maybe that's why no one has pursued it. We as a nation of people we have so far to go and we as a people don't like to see what is right in front of us. I love roots and it is one of the reasons that I'm so interested in our people and my own personal story in all of this history. I think it is important for us to explore what our people have gone through and still go through even though we think we have arrived. Yes we maynot be slaves in the since we once where but we are still slaves in some since whether by choice or our circumstances.

  • Memra | June 24, 2011 4:23 AMReply

    I never hear anyone talk about how we lost our roots. Our pure African heritage was stolen when we were brought here in chains to become servants and bed warners. If anything, our seed is African but our roots are mixed.

  • lee | June 24, 2011 3:50 AMReply

    Slavery is a part of america's history it took place when we as a people had no choice in the situation. we were stolen from our home land and made to work for the white master for free. their children got rich off of slave labor. and today in 2011 black men and women can't even get a job in this country. We have to teach our children about slavery it is as sample as that..

  • tambay | June 24, 2011 3:28 AMReply

    @ JMac & CC - ok, let's go ahead and compare the Civil Rights movement and the Holocaust instead. Is there really a difference? The same questions and sentiments are still applicable, aren't they?

    First, considering Sergio's post which I referenced, and many of the comments that followed, we (black people) aren't interested in seeing films that are based on periods in our history in which blacks were lawfully oppressed or are subservient. Look at the widely negative reactions on this site to a film like "The Help" for instance, which hasn't even been released yet.

    And second, even if you compare the number of films made about the Civil Rights movement (specifically those told from the POV of a black person, or people), with the number of Holocaust pics, I'd argue that there's still a gap separating the two, favoring the Holocaust. And I'm not talking about some documentary that 1/2 a percent of the population saw on PBS or in a classroom. Again, I'm referring primarily to narrative films produced, and/or distributed by a major or mini American film company, whether for a limited, or a wide audience, like those I mentioned in the post.

    But if someone is willing to do a formal count, say over the last decade, be my guest :)

  • Lynn | June 24, 2011 2:46 AMReply

    "Whites audiences are extremely narcissistic. They only want to see themselves on screen as heroes or everyday men who transcend diversity. Any real depiction of slavery would highlight the everyday evil of slavery and how whites benefited from it."

    @ Eshowwman you said, it perfectly whites can't bare looking at films that depict real life events chronicling their very brutal, animalistic behaviour they would rather see a film like the Help, Manderlay, Invictus, or some Hollywood bullsh*t that sugar coats them as "good people".

    Also, I have to comment on the whole Lottery Ticket, Soul Plane and Madea films. You have to understand that those films reach out to a certain audience. It may be very degrading, piece of bafoonery crap but they have their uneducated lower class audience. A film like Great Debators would never reach box office success. Why? It is a Castor Oil film I believe S&A had a post about this on their old site.

  • BlasianBytch | June 24, 2011 2:09 AMReply

    Honestly I think because the story of the Jewish Holucust has a "winner" the bad men lost , in the most simplistic terms.

    Movies about slavery would just remind white people how much they screwed Black people and continue to do so. Same reason there's no movies about Native American heros.

  • bill | June 24, 2011 2:06 AMReply

    Perhaps if more African American filmm producers,directors, and filmmakers showed the same interest as Jewish filmmakers,producers and directors seem to, this may not be the case.

  • Jay Hovdey | June 24, 2011 2:05 AMReply

    I would highly recommend the grim "mockumentary" called "C.S.A." produced by Spike Lee. The re-imagining of slavery as a modern institution leaves the taste of cold ashes.

  • saadiyah | June 24, 2011 2:03 AMReply

    I co-sign whole-heartedly with eshowoman!!

    I would love to see a good movie about Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglas, but it would probably not do well at the BO.

    @R.E. Mason - I understand what you're trying to say, but please remember that OUR Holocaust (the enslavement and murder of Africans) is a powerful legacy to MANY nations. It wasn't limited to the United States. Based on some comments on other posts where African descended folks from other countries somehow aren't considered Black because they aren't descendants of slaves, that fact needs to be constantly repeated. Black slaves existed outside of the United States too!

  • Vanessa | June 24, 2011 1:54 AMReply

    I would love to see more films about slavery, not because I'm a masochist but because I think it's important and deserving. I'm very passionate on the subject.

    There's so much that can be done! yes Where is the film based on the life Frederick Douglass?! Lawrence Fishburne would be perfect! maybe he's getting too old now?

    BTW, I've said this before, I thought Beloved was a really good film, I don't understand why people didn't care for it.

  • JMac | June 23, 2011 12:36 PMReply

    Darn cc, you beat me :D

  • JMac | June 23, 2011 12:35 PMReply

    Let me play devil's advocate and ask aren't we really comparing apples to oranges when making the argument slavery movies vs. jewish holocaust movies? Shouldn't we be examining the civil rights era vs. holocaust instead? I think one of the major complications of revisiting slavery is that unfortunately there wasn't the same amount and level of documentation going on from 1500s to 1800s as was present during WWII. Sure there are letters, books, drawings, news articles, and sometimes actual pictures but there were no movies, no voice recordings until years after slavery was abolished and those who had memories of being slaves may not have been completely forthright in their descriptions or were of such advanced age the knowledge was forgotten or fuzzy. Then add on top, white reluctance to withhold this information or even acknowledge events and the intangible recollections of the first slaves which may only have been passed on to future generations through oral history rather than written history. Reading incomplete histories in a book doesn't engender the same connection a person would feel if they actually see the event happening in real life.

    With the holocaust and WWII as a whole, it was the first time cameras largely captured the atrocities being committed against other human beings. The Nazis weren't particularly smart considering they unwittingly documented themselves being as inhuman as possible thereby precluding any denial that the holocaust never happened (although they still tried anyway.) If we had that technology and the same attitude towards it throughout slavery I think this period of American history would have been given much more credence and importance than it has now. There would definitely be more films on it. Luckily, the civil rights struggle did benefit. How many movies and documentaries exist regarding MLK, Malcolm X, A Phillip Randolph, boycotts, sit ins, marches, freedom riders, etc...? Probably the same amount if not more than what exists regarding the Jewish Holocaust. And there are quite a few black american history museums in the states -maybe some in other countries - although they may focus more on the last 80 years than the last 400. Last year or so when I was helping a friend renew his visa, I stumbled across Chicago's Indian Embassy website and they had a link where you could hear a rediscovered MLK speech he made in India about nuclear disarmament. You can find it here now http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=99480326

    Our legacy is intact and recognized and honored throughout the world but it's based on more recent events not necessarily on slavery. To be honest, I think the last 60 years were the most important. There were some stories of hope during slavery but standing up and demanding equal rights by turning this whole country upside down and right side up is a much better story and much more accessible to all people through unfiltered unsuppressed videos, music, speeches, poems, books, and pictures.

  • R. E. Mason | June 23, 2011 12:24 PMReply

    I am one person, among droves of others, who is passionate about keeping OUR Holocaust alive to remind us of how rich and powerful our legacy is to our people and to our nation. William Grimes wrote the first fugitive slave narrative in American History—yet only a few ever heard of this man. He didn’t have the latent genius of the well known runaway slave autobiographer, Frederick Douglass, but he had the nerve to write his own story—20 some years before Douglass-- without help from the hallmark white establishment. In fact, his is the first slave narrative to boldly proclaim: Written by Himself. I know this because I’ve done the research, republished his narrative and am now working on the documentary—Gina’s Journey: The Search for William Grimes. You’ll find information on this man, his book and my search for him at http//:www.reginamason.com.

  • cc | June 23, 2011 12:21 PMReply

    Interesting argument. I think it might be more fitting to compare the number of Holocaust films to the number of films about the Civil Rights movement.

    Obviously the two are NOT NOT NOT the same type of occurance, but I think there are other factors to consider.

    First, both took place in the same century and there are people still around today who lived through them.

    Also, either is more likely to reflect the events going on around the world today. Genocide and the fight for equal rights (of many groups) are both still happening all over the world A LOT, whereas straight up out in the open socially and legally accepted slavery isn't. I think the ability to say "hey, this is something that happend in America/Europe in the past and is STILL HAPPENING all over the world today" is quite appealing to filmmakers.

    Now of course not every story has to provide some direct, easy comparison to the world today. And of course as you stated, the residual effects of slavery are still quite apparent in today's society, making it a modern and relevant topic to consider. Buuuuut, I just think that these are some of the reasons why it's overlooked for more recent events in black history.

    I think it would be a great idea to make a film somehow tying together a story about slavery with a story set around the time of Civil Rights and one set today. Sort of the way The Hours told the story of Virginia Woolf, a 50s/60s housewife and a modern woman. It would have to be done well, but would be fantastic if they pulled it off. Maybe as a mini-series?

    Again, I'm not saying that the Civil Rights movement and the Holocaust have as much in common as slavery and the Holocaust, I just think that the modernity of the two events plays a huge factor.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | June 23, 2011 11:33 AMReply

    I live in Texas. I love it when whites get uncomfortable about reckoning with American History X. They want to think it was built on the myth rather than the reality; to love the former is human, but to eschew the latter is blasphemous. Anyway, my argument -- to whites as well as my own -- is that there's a Holocaust museum in almost every major, and minor, city in America. And... survivors take their kin on a regular basis. They make the youngest of them view the horrible pictures of concentration camps and stand in the remains of the rail cars that shuttled many to their deaths; and they say, "Never forget, and never let them forget." And there are myriad Holocaust films and/or documentaries getting press in the US year after year (to say nothing globally). I said all this to say, We can't be timid; the Jews aren't.

  • eshowoman, the cranky film scholar | June 23, 2011 11:07 AMReply

    Whites audiences are extremely narcissistic. They only want to see themselves on screen as heroes or everyday men who transcend diversity. Any real depiction of slavery would highlight the everyday evil of slavery and how whites benefited from it. None of which is seen as marketable. Most American blacks on the other hand do not know or don't want to deal with the complexities of history. There are many narratives of slavery and Jim Crow that exemplify courage, resourcefulness, resilience and progress. If the average black person does not know this history they are not going to advocate to see it on the silver screen, so films like Madea, Lottery Ticket & soul Plane continue to produce over & over so that blacks can continue to laugh their way through the ignorance.

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