The Eternal Slave: Slave Narratives in the 21st Century

Other | Tuesday 31st May 2016 | Omari


Since the abolishment of slavery in July 1833, the tale of slavery has been told and re-told in order to "raise awareness" to the mistreatment of Africans globally, but what have been the effects of this retelling?

The tale of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is one that we are all familiar with. You are likely to have been taught a boiled down, oversimplified version of the history at school, a version that placed William Wilberforce at the centre of the abolition movement and thanked white slave-owners for "setting the african slaves free" out of kindness and compassion. 

The reality of this could not be further from the truth. 

(The Hatian Revolution 1791 - 1804) Still no movie..

The issue here, however, is the effect that societies (and Hollywood's) constant retelling and romantic dramatisation of the 'slave narrative' or the tale of slavery. We live in an age where white directors such as Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained) and Michael Apted (Amazing Grace) are free to rewrite history, placing the fate and freedom of the entire African race in the hands and 'caring' hearts of white abolitionists or random hitmen (Django). The painfully obvious suggestion being that black people owe their freedom to the very people who enslaved them in the first place. 

Even black writers and directors are guilty of this, highlighting the damage done by regurgitating this dark past as a contemporary drama. Steve McQueen's pitifully brutal 12 Years A Slave is one of the most recent assaults on black history and image; and works by Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrisson do nothing but exacerbate this degreding pornography masquerading under the guise of historical accuracy or creating 'a dialogue' to quote Tarantino.

Unfortunately we have been lulled into acceptance, a state that we must elevate from or the history of Africa, Africans and the world will be obscured beyond recognition and reality. 

While we're talking, we think it's come high time to address the straight-faced whitewashing of Africa in Western cinema. While Hollywood is more than happy to re-tread the slave narrative in increasing depth and drama, they are reluctant to give Africans the history that does belong to them. 

(Exodus Gods and Kings, Ridley Scott, 2014)

Lets be clear, this film is a travesty, there have been many comments on this film and other trash including the insultingly named Gods of Egypt by Alex Proyas and the awful Xmen: Apocalypse from Bryan Singer, that have taken cultural appropriation to new heights however I think one simple message needs to be understood in no uncertain terms:

Egypt is in Africa

The west needs to understand and accept this. The history of Africa did not begin and end with slavery. We have a rich and vibrant history as an empire that predates Jesus and the 'civilisations' of Europe. The issue is that that history, our history is being reinvented and replaced with burly white dudes like Christian Bale in the place of the Africans who lived the history and built the civilisations.

Similarly it is damaging to the descendants of Africa today, spread throughout the world, to look to television, cinema and the media, only to find their own people cast as people who die in the first moments of the movie, or criminals, drug-dealers and to a lesser extent musicians. 

What we need are factual retellings of black history. Films about our struggle against oppression and accurate depictions of Africa and the dynasties of the Egyptian empire.