29 Days Of Black History – Day 1: The Book Of Negroes

Release Date:  2/16/16; BET
Genre:   Drama/Historical
Rating:  NR
Director:  Clement Virgo
Studio(s):  Conquering Lion Pictures, Out of Africa Entertainment, Black Entertainment Television (BET)
Running Time:   265 mins.

Cast:  Aunjanue Ellis (Aminata Diallo), Lyriq Bent (Chekura), Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Samuel Fraunces), Louis Gossett, Jr. (Daddy Moses), Ben Chaplin (Captain John Clarkson), Allan Hawco (Solomon Lindo), Greg Bryk (Robertson Appleby), Jane Alexander (Maria Witherspoon), Stephan James (Cummings Shakspear), Shailyn Pierre-Dixon (Young Aminata), Cara Ricketts (Bertilda), Tuks Tad Lungu (Rono).

Details:  The Book of Negroes is a six-part television miniseries based on the novel of the same name by Canadian writer Lawrence Hill. The book was inspired by the British freeing and evacuation of former slaves, known as Black Loyalists, who had left rebel masters during the American Revolutionary War. The British transported some 3,000 Black Loyalists to Nova Scotia for resettlement, documenting their names in what was called the Book of Negroes.  The novel explores the life of a fictional woman included in this resettlement. She had been taken captive as a girl in West Africa and sold into slavery, held first in South Carolina. She escaped to British lines in New York City, where she was freed and ultimately evacuated to Nova Scotia. The miniseries premiered on BET on February 16, 2015.

Story:  In Africa, eleven-year-old Aminata Diallo learns from her mother how to be a midwife, and her father teaches her Islam. When she is captured by slavers who murder her parents, a young African named Chekura shows her kindness and Aminata bonds with him. The captives are forced to endure a hazardous journey to America, where they are sold as slaves to different owners in South Carolina and separated.

Aminata, now grown, works on Robinson Appleby’s Indigo plantation. After several seasons of deflecting Appleby’s advances, Aminata is raped by the planter. She marries Chekura and has his child. Infuriated, Appleby sells her and her daughter to separate owners. Her new owners, Solomon Lindo, a Jewish indigo trader and his wife, Rosa, treat Aminata better. But after Rosa and her baby die from smallpox, and Aminata learns that Solomon brokered the sale of her child, she loses her trust in him. Lindo, desperate for a distraction, takes Aminata with him on a business trip to New York City, which is occupied by the British. Aminata plots her escape to the British, who have promised freedom to slaves leaving rebel masters.

When Revolution breaks out in New York, Aminata seizes her chance and escapes to freedom in the black neighborhood known as Canvas Town. She gains respect in the community by working as their midwife, and makes new friends. A local inn owner admires her literacy and wisdom. She finds work and refuge in his inn, which is frequented by General George Washington.  Aminata reunites with Chekura.

With the war’s end, slave masters start seeking their fugitive slaves in Canvas Town. Aminata starts working for the British, in order to record in the Book of Negroes blacks who worked for the British during the war, so they may be freed and evacuated to Nova Scotia for a new life, as promised by the Crown. The British refused to return slaves to American masters. As she and Chekura prepare to board a ship for Nova Scotia, she is seized by authorities and Chekura leaves alone. She faces a trial as her first master, Robinson Appleby, claims that she was still legally his slave. Solomon Lindo shows up and proves that Appleby is lying, lifting his own claim to Aminata. She travels to Nova Scotia to find Chekura.

Life in Nova Scotia is harsh for the freed blacks, as the climate is brutal, and tensions flare between the white and black communities over the scarcity of jobs.  Aminata continues to search for Chekura. She gives birth to a son she names Mamadu, but he dies of cholera. Conflicts with white loyalists arise. Due to her literacy and skills, Aminata finds work in a white lady’s print shop, but she is fired after the owner’s son is killed near the black village. She writes to British abolitionists seeking help for her people.

The British begin a new project, to start a new colony in West Africa with black volunteers from London and Nova Scotia. Aminata is employed to help recruit people. She learns that Chekura reached Bermuda after a storm, and they are reunited in Nova Scotia. But the white Loyalists riot and attack the black village, doing damage and killing people.  Aminata and Chekura escape unharmed and board one of 15 ships, carrying nearly 2,000 blacks to Sierra Leone.

The free Negroes arrive in Sierra Leone. With the help of the British, they create a new town named Freetown. Aminata longs to return to her home village of Bayo, which is not too far from Freetown. After finding a navigator near Freetown, Aminata leaves for Bayo accompanied by Chekura. Halfway through their journey, they encounter a slave coffle, as the trade continues. Aminata and Chekura want to free a little girl in the coffle. The slave traders threaten to enslave Chekura and Aminata if they interfere. At night, Chekura goes alone to free the entire coffle, but is killed in the process.

Heartbroken, Aminata leaves for Britain to assist abolitionists in ending the slave trade. She writes a memoir about her life, and presents it to the pro-slave trade politicians. In the end, the vote is swung in the abolitionists’ favor and a law is passed banning the Atlantic slave trade, but not slavery where it exists. Afterwards, Aminata meets Solomon Lindo again. He reunites her with her daughter May, who was taken to London.  Source:  Wikipedia; IMDB; The Hollywood Reporter; BET.com.

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