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THE BOOK OF NEGROES (DVD Review)

Book_of_Negroes_MTITHE BOOK OF NEGROES

Directed by Clement Virgo / Written by Lawrence Hill & Clement Virgo / Starring Aunjanue Ellis, Lyriq Bent and Ben Chaplin

Aminata Diallo: I seem to have trouble dying. By all rights, I should not have lived this long.

THE BOOK OF NEGROES was a top rated miniseries for CBC earlier this year and is now available for home viewing via a beautifully packaged 3-disc set. Directed by Clement Virgo (POOR BOY’S GAME) and written by Lawrence Hill (who is also the author of the award-winning book on which the series is based), the six episodes tell the story of Aminata Diallo, a fictitious character living in the very non-fictitious circumstances of the 18th century.

At the age of 11, Aminata (Aunjanue Ellis, THE HELP) is snatched from her home in Africa by slave traders. Abused, branded and put on a boat bound for America, she is sold into slavery in South Carolina, where she lives and works under her oppressive owner, Robertson Appleby (played by Greg Bryk, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE). Over the years and through various circumstances, she makes her way to New York during the American Revolution, followed by Nova Scotia, all in an effort to reclaim her freedom and eventually find her way back home. Intelligent, fierce and irrepressible, her ability to “catch babies” (aka, work as a midwife) and her literacy both prove invaluable in her journey and find her many allies along the way.

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Also starring Lyriq Bent (from the second, third and fourth instalments of the SAW films), Ben Chaplin (THE THIN RED LINE) and Allan Hawco (Republic of Doyle), with Lou Gossett Jr. and Cuba Gooding Jr., THE BOOK OF NEGROES is emotionally moving, tragic yet still inspirational. Ellis is captivating in what must have been an extremely challenging role. And while the series itself is absorbing enough on its own, those interested in the historical aspect will glean much enjoyment from a small booklet included with the DVD set. This insert features an essay penned by the author, in which he details the origin of the story, his struggle to capture the voice of a resilient 18th century woman enslaved under such horrific circumstances and the learning curve he faced when asked to adapt his novel into a screenplay for a six-part miniseries. He also writes openly about the backlash that accompanied his work’s title when it was first released in 2007 – even to the point of a book burning that took place in Amsterdam – and his ensuing effort to educate his audience on the little-known historical document for which it is named. Eight years after the publication of his book, Hill and Virgo’s miniseries has aided greatly in that effort – the story of Aminata Diallo, though fictional, has served as a history lesson of sorts – African, American, Canadian, British, human.

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One Comment

  1. The book, The Book of Negroes, was excellent. This is a story that I can relate to. My Great, Great Grandmother was 11 years old and her sister was 12 years when they were kidnapped from Guinea, West Africa and enslaved. The fact that anyone anywhere would burn a book that could enlighten them is shameful. Unfortunately, there are those who do not wish to be educated. I would give this film and the book 5 stars.

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