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Heart-breaking reality stares us right in the face with the second part of the Canadian mini-series THE BOOK OF NEGROES. Aminata’s journey in this hour is focused on love. The performances and direction are top notch, with an unflinching portrayal of emotional subject matter and savagery.
Last week ended with a drastic jump-cut into the future, the young child Aminata lays her head down for sleep and awakens as an adult. This episode continues the story of her captivity in South Carolina under the rule of a cruel master.
While there is much horror to focus on, the story reminds of hope. One of the largest struggles for a slave must have been clutching their hands around fading hope. Aminata’s hope springs from an unlikely love she found aboard the slave ship. She dreams of reuniting with the boy slaver, CHAKURA – a teen forced into abducting Africans for the White Man’s profit.
My favourite moments in BOOK OF NEGROES are when we learn more about African culture and the historical practices of slave rebellion. More importantly I love how this series SHOWS us history, rather than telling us with long drawn out obvious exposition through dialogue. We know of slavery and the atrocities by reading texts. With this visual medium we can better understand the emotions. We can better see the effects. Our imagination is one thing, but through demonstration these events seem to CLICK a bit more effectively.
I liked the quiet visual of Aminata hiding a book away, atop a stack of other novels. We get a brief mention of learning to read English so fast, so easily. However, for me, seeing that stack better demonstrates Aminata’s thirst for knowledge and curious nature. I think she reads for illumination rather than escapist entertainment from her dire reality.
An interesting tradition allows Aminata to search for her Chakura. Slaves have created a system for spreading news. The cast a net into the river, so to speak. I love learning about these tactics and seeing them implemented. She sends word out to find him.
Meanwhile, her Master begins to show interest in this young and beautiful piece of property. Aminata is warned to never be in a room alone with him. She avoids this several times, until she doesn’t. This sort of sexual violence must have happened over and over throughout the history of the enslaved community. The series handles this moment with a balance of emotion and terror.
A gentle romance blooms naturally in a few brief scenes. Chakura escapes for a night every few months or so. Upon consumating their love, Aminata becomes pregnant. When her pregnancy begins to show the Master casts his suspicions. He decides to teach her a lesson, clearly demonstrating his ownership of property. I won’t describe his methods here to avoid spoilers, as this will not air in the USA until February on BET. I will say the moment is effective and relentless. We are shown the effects of a Master’s brutal rule.
While Aminata continues her romantic rendevous with Chakura until they decide upon commitment. The marriage ceremony and traditions felt like getting a secret glimpse at culture. A sneak peak at hope.
After some time, Aminata is sold to new owners – open-minded French couple expecting child. They just happen to be Jewish and sympathetic to Aminata’s treatment based on otherness. I will skim over an essential plot development so those readers who haven’t watched the show will have another very emotional surprise in store. I won’t spoil that here.
I appreciate a different point of view here though. The French employers refer to Aminata as a servant. It is under their employ that she is afforded certain freedoms. She can walk the streets and explore. She is valuable, at first to catch their baby, but soon after her intelligence is deemed more valuable. She is trusted enough to organize his books, let’s say.
During this chapter of Aminata’s life, she continues to rendevous with Chakura her husband, and father to her child. This could cause conflicts, as a slave under another owner’s roof could be considered theft. Aminata is also on another very emotional quest that I will not ruin here. I will comment that these spoilers were very effective turning points for our main character. We see the emotional toll of the constant uprooting of one’s life.
Small pox plagues the Americas and her new employers are subjected to this deadly disease. Aminata need not worry due to a fellow slave’s knowledge of science and medicine. I really enjoy seeing these cultural moments, in this case medical knowledge to combat small pox.
By the end of the episode we are promised a new direction for Aminata’s grand journey. We know she will end up in London from the opening scene in the first episode / part of the mini-series, we just don’t know how. We know that no matter what is thrown at her, no matter what she is subjected to, she will survive. There is hope. We know, whereas Aminata had to believe.
BOOK OF NEGROES continues next week where it seems CUBA GOODING JR. will be introduced. The cinematic spectacle delivered on the small screen promises another entertaining and emotionally provocative hour further chronicling the life and turmoils of Aminata.
What do you think? Are you enjoying the mini-series so far?
Does it go too far in its depictions of depravity and cruelty?
Which areas would you like to see further expanded?
What do you think of the production values?
What do you think of the performances thus far?
Is this the best mini-series for this important subject matter since ROOTS decades ago?