Aminata Diallo (Aunjanue Ellis) was kidnapped from her village and sold into slavery. She becomes enslaved in the United States whilst being subjected to harsh and brutal conditions of South Carolina. Through the course of her life, she makes it to New York City, an isolated part of Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone. This a great story about survival, freedom, hope and justice.
The Book Of Negroes is a well-made and handsome miniseries full of brutality, tragedy and misfortune. Predictably, many of the events in the series about are hard to watch and many scenes make you wince. Despite her circumstances, Aminata is the voice of reason to friends during the show. They have all given up, but she remains hopeful. Regardless of her bonds of servitude to her master, she reminds herself that you must never give up. Like WGN’s Underground, The Book Of Negroes isn’t a completely dark and depressing slavery drama. There are lights at the end of short tunnels throughout the series, like when she is sold from the brutal and slave rapist Master Appleby (Greg Bryk) to the seemingly more accommodating to Solomon Lindo (Allan Hawco) AKA “The Jew”, but at times he shows that he’s just as ideologically racist as Appleby.
Based on the novel by Lawrence Hill, The Book Of Negroes starts in 1761 in an African village where Aminata is aiding her mother “catch a baby.” Soonafter, she’s being transported to a slave ship and now our story begins. She’s motivated to rise above her situation, so she learns to: read, write and speak the native English tongue of the United States. She quickly makes a name for herself, not for being one of the few slaves who can read or write, but for her skills as a midwife. One of the strangest relationships in the whole series is between Aminata (Ellis) and Chekura (Lyriq Bent). Chekura is a character she meets as a girl, though a boy at the time, he was the one who sold her to the white men at the orders of kinsmen. This character eventually becomes her husband, but they are often separated for months or even years at a time.
Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (The Butler) gives an excellent performances as Samuel Fraunces, a pub owner who is in an accomplice to Aminata in her quest for freedom. Like any slavery/civil rights drama, there is always a white saviour. But in times like this I don’t see any slaves wielding the power to change things. In Django Unchained, we had Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and in 12 Years A Slave we had Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt) whilst in The Help it was Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone) and in Selma it was President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) when he passed The Fair Housing Act AKA The Civil Rights Act of 1968. In The Book Of Negroes, it’s a British naval officer called John Clarkson who lays the path for Aminata to do a great many things. In the end, this “white saviour” turned out to be one of my favourite characters as he was colour blind. Ellis’ season-stealing performance is what pushes the season most of all. She is present in almost every scene, showing the aging process in body as well as in soul, displaying such a grit and emotion throughout the six-episode run.
As a slave, you have to get used to the fact that many people treat you in a certain way because you are different. But there are ways to get small victories and we see this through Aminata’s life, though she gets many big ones. She takes pride in her African-roots which makes her grow stronger and more confident, like when she hears someone call her name or ask her to catch a baby, like she did with her mother. But more so, entering the names of thousands of her black brothers and sisters into The Book Of Negroes which was the historical ledger that documented Black British Loyalist migrants to Nova Scotia.Aminata is thinking of the generations to come. She says “…imagine that, fifty years later, someone might find an ancestor in the Book of Negroes and say, that was my grandmother”. Things like that warm her heart with pride.
The Book Of Negroes is one woman’s perspective of slavery in the South but it also widens its breadth to New York, Canada and across the Atlantic to Africa. This story takes place between 1761 and 1807. She goes from a naive girl to a learned slave and even to London as a key figure in the Abolitionist Movement. Aminata is a great lead female character and she’s an inspiration to us all. I also liked the fact that we encounter real life historical figues like General George Washington and I’m doubly glad he wasn’t depicted like a martyr as he so often is in dramas like this. He owned slaves, yet liberated America. That makes me raise an eyebrow. Seems to me he only freed half a country? If he was such an “American Hero”, wouldn’t he have done more to help “American Slaves” in bondage. It’s no mystery that slaves built America somewhat, to what it is today. We also encounter British abolitionist William Wilberforce. This is a docudrama, and a bloody good one at that.
Filled with awesome performances from all the cast, The Book Of Negroes is a must watch for those who want to be taken on a trip through time or even for those who love period dramas as well as televison addicts. But this isn’t a show for the fainthearted. Stories and experiences can’t be touched. To tell the story of her life like Aminata did, and to have lived so many lives, is truly amazing. And storytelling is the eighth wonder of the world.