A well-written and moving documentary
Descendant is a well written and moving documentary; a touching and poignant reminder that if we don’t work to persevere the past, it’ll be lost forever or worse – twisted to fit a false narrative.
Set in the small Alabaman community of Africatown, this documentary film follows the descending sons and daughters of the surviving members of The Clotilda, the last known slave ship that smuggled humans from Africa to the US illegally.
The ship is a centuries-old open secret, with the community doubling up as activists to reclaim a part of their history. It’s a pretty important documentary on the whole and it’s a great example of why the perseverance of history is so integral.
For those unaware, the voyage in question took place in 1860, after it was deemed illegal to import human cargo. Slave-owner Timothy Meaher ordered the Clotilda’s captain William Foster to burn and submerge the vessel in the Mobile River, getting rid of evidence after smuggling over 110 poor souls to US soil.
Since then, the story has been obsfucated, changed and hidden from the public, with pushback in schools to even teach this (which should tell you everything you need to know.)
Netflix’s Descendant works to shine a spotlight on the true events that transpired, as well as the lives and hmes those in Africatown built for themselves – and struggle to maintain today.
Featuring numerous interviews with residents and their thoughts, perhaps no other scene sums up the changing fortunes of class and race than one featuring the peoples of Africatown gathered in a meeting after the Clotilda is found.
Illustrations are shown of how huddled together men and women were atop the boat, with Dr Hiebert – a white man I may add – describing the illustrations as “wonderful.” As the camera pans across to show the grave faces in the audience, it really sums up the contrasting fortunes for these two different walks of life.
Descendant is well worth a watch and in many ways brings up the importance of history and how crucial it is to make sure the right voices are heard – and the right stories told. This is a film exploring the idea of denied history, and hopefully with a platform like Netflix, more people can become aware of this astonishing and fascinating story.
Verdict - 8/10