Boukman leading the people on the eve of the Haitain revolution

500 Years a Slave


Following the success of 12 Years a Slave, Ryan Smith asks why the need for another slavery movie?



As we move into an era where our so called history is consistently portrayed to us at the hands of Hollywood superstars and motion pictures such as Django, The Butler, 12 Years A Slave we within the Black community must be vigilant to a depiction of ‘our’ stories being played out by ‘his’- story tellers. Maybe we can question why the bigger picture of these hero stories is ramming the ideas and images of us underneath the whip and inferior to every other race at a time when we are aiming to rise as a race and re-develop as a continent. ‘12 Years A Slave’ told the story of a ‘free man’ who was kidnapped and wrongfully sold as a slave. Oh the injustice! How could this have happened? Lest we forget that every Black represented person in the film, and every so called ‘slave’ that was ever kidnapped was a free person! A free person who’s humane right to liberty cannot be defined by ‘papers’ that draw a line between a man’s freedom and his chains. As the tear jerking bandwagon of African history over the last 500 years is played out in motion picture, we must ask ourselves then, where are the Nat turner blockbusters, the Harriet Tubman, Gaspar Yanga and Nanny Stories on the big screen? Why can we not rejoice in the determination, defiance and self- pride that spurred American, Haitian and Jamaican revolts by our ancestors? Maybe we won’t find these amazing and empowering occurrences on the big screen until we demand them or more importantly create and produce them. Until then we and the rest of the world will popcorn to more lashings at the hand of master.

The slavery system was intended to divide the people, disconnect the Black race from their spirituality system, gain economic wealth through inhumane labour and punishment, destroy the culture and family unit, desecrate the mental and psychological sphere, rid the Black race of their educational systems and deny them the knowledge of their true self. Alas, in the 21st century, over 150 years since the so called abolition of slavery, the Black race are the most underachieving group in western education, separated across continents, segregated within countries, divided between religions, representative of high percentages of mental and physical health, under- represented in employment and over-represented in prisons, suffer over whelming rates of family and community dis-unity, and have little of a poor economic base.

So, how about another ‘slave’ movie?

How about another reminder, or doctrine, of how far we’ve come since slavery? How about another ‘1 in 10,000’ hero to let us slip into complacency and passiveness towards the racial injustices that run ravage through the Black man’s reality, spurring us on to give thanks for our progression from the back of the bus?

Taking into account the realities and statistics pertaining to the Black man’s physical, religious, social and educational state across the world, it must be now time for our people to re-evaluate how far we have come since physical slavery, and how far we have slipped into a more detrimental spiritual and psychological form of slavery.

How is it that so few of our people even know of a rich history of high civilisation, harmonious living and a spiritual system that incorporated every aspect of physical, mental and spiritual health? It is almost insane to believe that the same people that brought civilisation, the highest form of astronomical and universal sciences, maths, language, writing, medicine and concept of oneness to the world now represent the lowest performing group in most controlled fields of society. The Black race set the spiritual bases of every major religion, created and built architectural structures that are unmatched and still leave today’s most advanced minds and technology bewildered and unable to replicate. The Black race never left the African continent to conquer or start wars with any other nation, yet lived in a state of universal balance in accordance with the divine and nature. We housed the largest university complexes ever built on earth, attended by the most privileged and noble from every corner of the globe, and educated every great Greek philosopher who is attributed credit for their schools of thought. But how about another slave film to depict our history?

The atrocity is not so much in the often bias written and produced accounts of slavery, for we must never forget the evil inflicted upon our people, but on the lack of anything outside of this sphere that has full potential unite and awakens us to who and what we were before these events. Why are the truths and glorious past of the most contributing and original race of the planet not installed and cherished as the foundation of Black learning and identity?

Malcolm X taught us that only a fool would let his enemy educate his children, yet still today we have no established educational institution, no united spiritual base and no united identity. Are these not the effects of a very deliberately orchestrated slavery system? Whilst depending on institutions developed and delivered outside of the Black race to educate, guide, supply our demands and write our history we will remain mentally and spiritually enslaved 500years and counting..

This is not the time for the Black community to become complacent in our apparent progression through the ages, but to become more pro-active in our construction for the future. We must not be fooled by modern day public figures, international celebration months and sympathetic dedications to past. We must not be hoodwinked by a national or global perception of what change is for us. A Black president is the president of America… NOT Black people.

The future of the African people, on the home continent and throughout the diaspora, depends on self-educating and self-governing. It starts with a common unity we can all as divided people identify with and rebuild upon. We must take ownership of our story and our institutions and bring meaningful structure to celebrated concepts such as Black History Month. Through the revival of an unbelievably and glorious past we can wake up and unite the present Black race in order to come together in building new foundation for a strong and prosperous future. As it was in the beginning so it shall be in the end. It starts with Black unity.

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