Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10)
Contrary to widely held belief, just because the US slave trade was outlawed in 1808, that didn’t end attempts to continue to import African slaves thereafter. It wasn’t until 1860, when the last slave ship, the Clotilde, entered American waters with a hold full of slaves that the practice finally came to an end. And, to conceal this crime, which was punishable by death, the perpetrators scuttled the ship by burning it upon arrival. The location of the wreckage long remained a mystery until a diving team found it in shallow water just north of Mobile, AL in 2018-19. But the discovery was more than just an archaeological curiosity; it was also significant to the descendants of the Clotilde slaves, many of whom settled in a nearby community called Africatown when they achieved freedom after the Civil War in 1865. Those living today now have actual proof of their African lineage, as well as evidence of the crime that was committed against their ancestors. Director Margaret Brown’s fourth feature outing explores this story from multiple angles in terms of its historic and personal importance, as well as from all of the fallout that stemmed from their ancestors’ experience that has carried through to this day. Given the myriad threads presented in this documentary, the focus admittedly could have been a little tighter in spots, particularly in terms of how the narrative’s many dots connect. But, that aside, the film effectively chronicles a little-known story that represents a significant benchmark in African-American history and a potential turning point in terms of how the American public at large views the question of this appalling institution and its after-effects, some of which have lingered but have gone virtually unaddressed and, arguably, even unrecognized all these years. This is a fine film that should be part of every grade school history class and a welcome addition to African-American History Month viewing.