fri 31/03/2023

Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson, BBC Two review - ambitious history of the slave trade falls short | reviews, news & interviews

Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson, BBC Two review - ambitious history of the slave trade falls short

Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson, BBC Two review - ambitious history of the slave trade falls short

Noble intentions undone by loss of focus and rambling content

Sam Jackson, taking a painful journey through his ancestry

Enlisting Hollywood giant Samuel L Jackson to host a series about the history of slavery, his own ancestors having been trafficked from West Africa to the Americas, was a headline-grabbing move, and scenes where we travelled with Jackson to the historic slaving hotspot of Gabon rang with a steely sense of commitment.

Elsewhere, though, the editorial focus was slack and the content rambling, as though the project (on BBC Two) had undergone a last-minute salvage job using whatever was at hand.

However often you hear them, the details of the slave trade are stomach-turning – it’s estimated that 12 million slaves were trafficked from Africa, of whom two million may have died en route. Details of how slaves were beaten, manacled and dehumanised, or stories of the institutionalised brutality of plantations and sugar factories in Suriname where a slave's life expectancy was about eight years, were hard to process for the 21st century mind. Jackson, who became a naturalised citizen of Gabon in 2019, took a helicopter trip to the Vallée des Esclaves (Valley of the Slaves), where slaves were assembled for transportation. From the idyllic coastal region of Iguela Lagoon, the captives were crammed into ships to ensure maximum profit and packed off to Europe, America or Brazil (the latter accounting for 46 per cent of all African slaves).

Jackson surveyed all this with an air of pained resignation, doubtless underpinned by simmering rage. Even when he was just saying “wow!” in a deep and sonorous voice, he made compulsive viewing. But if only the films had stuck with Jackson throughout, instead of veering off to join a team of divers called Diving With a Purpose (pictured above). DWP specialises in diving for wrecked slave ships and piecing together the history of the vessels and their occupants. But though they were fuelled with noble intentions, as if discovering an actual wreck of a slave ship would somehow make the history of slavery un-happen, the team came up short on results.

Their first target was a slaving vessel known as 35F, which sank 45 miles off the Cornish coast in the 1680s. Unfortunately their underwater search was frustratingly anticlimactic, padded out with dreary diving-nerd stuff about safety procedures, decompression stops and the difficulty of finding historical artefacts in 350 feet of water amid piles of silt. They belatedly exhumed an ivory tusk from the seabed (the slave ships would also carry ivory and other valuable commodities), which prompted some emotional outpourings from the crew.

In Suriname, they went in pursuit of the slave ship Leusden, in which 667 slaves drowned when the crew nailed down the hatches, but lead diver Kramer Wimberley couldn’t find anything in the murky water. Their subsequent search for the sunken Spanish slaver Guerrero turned up some circumstantial evidence, but nothing you’d call definitive proof. Hardly surprising, when even a vessel as huge as the Titanic took decades to locate.

Far more intriguing was the interview with a venerable British diver who’d explored the wreck of the Douro, a possibly illegal slave ship, off the Scilly Isles in the 1970s. Among other things, he’d recovered tons of the “manilla” tokens used as slaving currency, each denoting the value of a slave. It was the most convincing material here, but it was tossed away as a mere aside. You got the distinct feeling that this series hadn’t turned out quite the way it was supposed to.

It looked as though the project had undergone a last-minute salvage job


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Watched Enslaved documentary as to be expected very little said about the part played by Black Africans and Arabs. Who captured and sold slaves to the English slavers without them there may never have been a slave trade. One Nwaubani Ogogo a Nigerian slave trader in the fifteenth century, it is estimated he sold one million slaves to the white slave traders. A lot of Black Americans and Black English struggle to come to terms with this unpalatable part of their history.

I completely agree must have been a huge organised operation to capture or somehow get the indigenous people and assemble them at the coast for the English slavers with whom they must have had an established business arrangement.

As a Black Brit I do acknowledge the part played by some African and Arab slavers in participating in this hellish trade. But what I do not accept is that somehow, this inexcusable participation ameliorates the hideous, subsequent post captured slave experience. Ogogo may well have brought the slaves to white traders at the coast, but it's the 400 years of sheer inhumanity which ensued that's being explained and presented in Enslaved.

No We do not "struggle to come to terms with "this unpalatable part of our history"! For you to say that without my ancestors involvement there may never have been a slave trade is absolutely ridiculous. It was not the African slave traders who packed the "bought" enslaved people into ships like animals and transported them across the Atlantic in such appalling and almost unimaginative conditions, neither was it these African Slave traders who sold, brutalised,tortured and raped my enslaved ancestors once they arrived in America and the Caribbean. Shame on You!

Somehow they made a heartrending and fascinating subject quite tedious. The dicing section was a waste of airtime; with its soundbites and attempts to inject tension it felt more like DIY SOS. Watching it straight after the Michael Palin travelogue retrospective didn't help. With a story like this let the facts do the telling (the oyster shell banks were a moment of real pathos), there really is not need to dramatise.

Some years ago I visited the island of Goree off the coast of Senegal, West Africa or better known as The House of Slaves. The whole Island has an air of sorrow and pain that we all felt. We were all assembled in the courtyard and were given a lecture from an elderly woman of colour called Ruth who said she was the direct descendant of a black slaver. Also present were a lot of black Americans, after the lecture we noticed a lot of the Americans were in tears we were intrigued as to why. We asked Ruth why she replied, “they are never taught about this part of history and their own people sold their own people as slaves and this reaction was very common”.

That is Ruth's opinion, I rather think that these Americans,a lot of whom would be direct descendants of enslaved people who were held in these places were perhaps crying whilst remembering the atrocities that had been meted out to their ancestors, in the same way that visitors to Concentration camps are overcome with grief and pain at the thought of the t suffering experienced by their relatives.

This series feels like a complete fraud. It didn't have to be this way?

what do you mean it feels like a complete fraud, please elaborate. Thank you

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