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The third episode of the epic historical mini-series BOOK OF NEGROES aired last night, continuing Aminata Diallo’s journey from Africa into slavery. This week she arrived in Manhattan under the employ of a French man. The shift in scenery from the Southern United States to the North demonstrates the different ideals of the two states.
Aminata and her employer take up residence at a bar owned by CUBA GOODING JR.’s character BLACK SAM. He seems to hustle his customers in order to survive. It almost seemed like he was the dreaded “Uncle Tom” sort of figure. We aren’t quite sure of his allegiance.
However, Sam is immediately drawn to Aminata’s intelligence. She modified the sign-in book for the hotel, her employer wrote her name as “Servant”. Sam watches her write her real name. Most of the other black men and women he encounters are likely to be illiterate. Aminata’s intelligence only enhances her beauty. We can’t help but wonder if Sam will make a move on her.
At this point of history, America is in a war for independence against the English. Manhattan is a dangerous place. We still aren’t quite sure if Sam sides with the English or the Americans, but it seems like his favouritism can be bought. I imagine he does what is advantageous for himself.
During a raid of the English on Manhattan, Aminata takes the chance to escape from her French employer. Sam tells her the French employer is guaranteed to flee back to France to avoid the dangers of war. Most importantly, Sam directs Aminata to CANVAS TOWN, the home of many “free Negroes”. However, the town of tents doesn’t provide guaranteed safety. Once trouble dies down the French owner may return, or send out bounty hunters to retrieve his “property”. These many dangers brew under each scene and mount significant tension.
There is an interesting version of history shown here. We see Americans fight for independence. We experience the first 4th of July in New York. The face of an independent America is a White face. The blacks are still enslaved. It won’t we be until years later, with Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War that the country will begin to shift its stance on slavery.
Another element of subtext I enjoyed was when Aminata taught the blacks of Canvas Town how to read and right their own name. This sequence shows how important identity is. Upon ownership most blacks had their names ripped from them and stolen from history. This sequence parallels the real historical Book of Negroes listing people as property. They are robbed of their individuality, and their connection to home – their names.
I love how tenderly this subject matter is approached. It’s rather subtle. There are more obvious ways to get this point across. But I love the quiet happiness of Aminata and her gift to others. While many other Canvas-ers can’t read or write, she makes sure to tell them it’s never too late to learn. This idea alone amazes some of the community. They’ve been told they can’t learn and they believe it. They were told they are less, and they believed it.
Free from indentured servitude, Aminata resumes her quest to reunite with her true love, Chakura. He keeps his promise and finds her once again. LYRIQ BENT portrays Chakura with a powerful yet gentle presence. Bent avoids what could have easily become an over-the-top cheesy romance. He holds the screen but doesn’t command it. The romance is gentle and memorable even with relatively little development on screen.
The main dilemma for this episode is whether or not the free blacks of Canvas Town should join the English side of the war. Chakura must make this decision as well. If they fight for the English, they are assured freedom once the war ends. An interesting point is brought up in debate – are White Americans already slaves to the British? If they win the war, will they still have to answer to the English? It seems like quite the stretch to lump the two groups together. It seems like the White American enjoys a lot more freedoms than a slave. It’s not like the English rape, torture, and murder White Americans without batting an eyelash. Alas, I digress…
Sam seems to have his own agenda. He encourages others to join the battle. I wondered if he has been paid off – similar to the African tribes who sold other tribes to Whites. Whether or not Sam’s motives are pure, he manages to convince many to join the fight.
Chakura is one of the convinced. Soon enough, he goes missing. And Aminata searches for him. It seems like once one quest ends another soon begins. The outlook doesn’t seem good, as their are soldiers hunting down escaped slaves who turned on America and joined the British. I won’t ruin the outcome here.
The larger journey continues. Aminata wants to return home – to Africa – like her parents would have wanted. I love how this ties back to the first episode when her father tested her knowledge of geography. He asked her to find her way home after he left her alone in the forest. In a way, she’s still being tested. She still has that same goal to achieve. Aminata must find a way home.
I look forward to the remaining parts of this lavish production. Three more episodes remain. Once the series finishing airing in Canada, I believe it will premiere in the States on BET. Let me know if you would like more detailed analysis marked with spoilers.
It looks like next week Aminata’s journey will take her to Canada, specifically Nova Scotia (an Eastern coastal province). Will this give her access to a boat? Will she begin an even longer journey home across the ocean?
What did you think?
Are you enjoying the mini-series so far?
Does the large scope add to confusion? Or does it make you hungry to research?
What did you think of Cuba Gooding Jr’s performance? Did he look too modern? Did he pull off the accent?
What do you think of the large scale production values? Is it cinematic enough?
Will this Canadian mini-series get recognized come Award season next year? Or does the Emmy’s and Golden Globes need bigger star names involved?