It is fitting that the Emancipation Proclamation turns 150-years-old this week, during a time in which slavery is receiving more media attention than at any time in the last 30 years.
Just in the last few weeks alone, “Django Unchained” was released, “Lincoln” has been in the theaters, as well and BET showed the mini-series “Roots” in the days leading up to Christmas.
The subject of slavery has historically been what I referred to as America’s “Black Box.” Everyone knows it’s there, but few are willing to acknowledge its presence, and even fewer are willing to open the box and dig into its varied contents.
When “Roots” debuted in 1977, it was groundbreaking on so many levels. “Roots” tells the story of Alex Haley’s family from first being kidnapped in Africa, to the trials and tribulations of slavery, and ultimately, freedom. Never before had the American public dealt with the depths of slavery told through the eyes of people of color on such a public platform before. BET was honoring the 35th anniversary of “Roots” and I was glad they showed it because many in my generation (those under 30) may not have had the opportunity to see it before.
Though I have yet to see “Django Unchained,” just based off of friends reviews and others on Twitter, the grand majority of people seemed to have enjoyed it. It is not often that a movie encompassing slavery would be described as entertaining and enjoyable, but “Django” seems to have accomplished just that for a number of people. Meanwhile, as good of a job as Daniel Day-Lewis does of portraying Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln,” many are dissatisfied at the absence of Fredrick Douglass anywhere in the movie.
It is good that there are films dealing with slavery, if only on the periphery. It is important that we not forget that slavery, as an institution, is older than this nation itself. One of the best ways to educate people is to inform them. However, before people can be informed, they must first be made aware. These movies are doing just that.
Warin Henry is a thinker, poet, blogger, and an aspiring film producer. He currently blogs about film and media in regards to people of color at filmswag.blogspot.com. He resides in New Jersey