TV Review: “The Book of Negroes”

Synopsis (BET/CBC): ‘The Book of Negroes’ depicts the extraordinary life journey of Aminata Diallo – an indomitable African woman who cuts a swath through a world that is pre-disposed to underestimate her. Kidnapped by slave traders in West Africa and subsequently enslaved in South Carolina, Aminata must navigate her way through the American Revolution in New York, the isolated refuge of Nova Scotia and the treacherous jungles of Sierra Leone, before ultimately securing her freedom in England at the dawn of the 19th century. As great as her accomplishments are, Aminata discovers that her desire to reclaim the home of her childhood can never be fulfilled and that in order to find peace, she must carve out a new home of her own.

Starring (Ep.1): Aunjanue Ellis as Aminata Diallo

Shailyn Pierre-Dixon as young Aminata

Lyriq Bent as Chekura Tiano

Siya Xaba as young Chekura

Allan Hawco as Solomon Lindo

(Eps. 2/3): Aunjanue Ellis

Lyriq Bent

Allan Hawco

Cuba Gooding Jr. as Sam Fraunces

Louis Gossett Jr. as Daddy Moses

My opinions: THIS IS A TOUGH THING TO WATCH. Not that it’s bad—it’s great. But if you’ve seen Rootand got mad afterwards, like mad for days, then The Book of Negroes will bring you back to that level of anger again.

From the very beginning, you are brought into Aminata’s compelling story, from when she’s taken from her home in Mali to her life as a slave and, ultimately, a free woman in Canada on her way back home.

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Just watching the first episode was enough to set me up for hours of anger, but I also got much more out of it than sheer emotion. I was really reminded once again about the depth and strength of the human spirit. The resilience Aminata showed throughout her struggles was inspiring. I’m honestly not sure I’d be able to handle all of her tribulations with that much grace and dignity. If I’m being honest, I probably would have been like Aminata’s caretaker on the slave ship, shot for participating in a coup. (Beneath this reasonable identity of mine is quite a lot of pride and seething rage towards injustice. I’m a Leo, and I’ve been known to roar quite loudly, louder than people actually expect from me, given how I act on a day-to-day basis.)

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It’s important to watch The Book of Negroes to get a better sense of what horrors these men and women lived through. Being taken from their home, across the sea in a disgusting ship to an unknown land where they’re sold like cattle, and almost no one cares about their lives is some deep stuff, to say the least. Aminata has her share of pain, from her abuse slavemaster (Greg Bryk) raping her,  shaving her bald to humiliate her, and selling her and Chekura’s daughter, to her new employer, Lindo, being the very definition of a racist white liberal.

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At the very least, you knew what the score was with the abuser. Lindo’s racism possibly makes me angrier than outright hatred because Lindo’s form of racism is always hidden under a veneer of understanding. He says that he’s an outsider like Aminata because he’s Jewish, yet he thinks being called a “servant” is somehow better than being called a slave, even though Aminata’s purpose was pretty much the same. The only differences were being able to speak freely and befriending Mrs. Lindo (Amy Louise Wilson), who unfortunately dies from smallpox.

Once Lindo’s wife and young son die and Aminata realizes Lindo had a hand in selling her daughter, Lindo’s wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing status is completely revealed. He was already suspect for acting like he was doing Aminata a favor instead of just treating her like a true human being, but he really loses all merit when he not only yells at her to cook and clean like a slave, but slaps her, showing that he truly thinks of her as property. Thankfully, she slaps him back, in true In the Heat of the Night style. She also makes him feel extremely guilty for the role he had in destroying her daughter’s life (who also, sadly, died of smallpox at her new residence).

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To handle the tribulations is one thing, but to still have enough emotional grasp left to find happiness truly shows how infinite the human spirit is. Aminata was able to find love with Chekura (who, ironically, was sold into slavery even though he was helping a black slaver sell Aminata and others), friendship with Mrs. Lindo, and her friendships with the slaves she lived with. Again, I don’t know if I’d have the strength to be able to befriend people I knew might not survive too long, depending on the whims of a slave master. But, I’m also human; I’m sure I would have still been able to find family among my peers like Aminata did.

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The Book of Negroes is history that should be recounted over and over again so we realize once again where we’ve come from and what we have to do to prevent anyone from taking away our humanity again in any respect. If you’re a rational individual and you come away from this program not affected, then you have to seriously ask yourself what your problem is as a human being.

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