AFS Docs Preview: Slavery By Another Name


Still of men in Birmingham, AL cell via Slavery By Another NameAustin Film Society will screen Slavery by Another Name this Wednesday, Nov. 13 at AFS at the Marchesa [event info/tickets]. The documentary, which PBS originally broadcast in 2012, delves into the ways African-Americans were forced into involuntary servitude in the post-Civil War South, until the 1940s.

I imagine most of us are at least vaguely familiar with the system of sharecropping, but how many of us were taught about peonage in history class? Not me, unfortunately.  I was aghast to just be learning about this illegal debt servitude at my current age.

The documentary, based on the book by Douglas A. Blackmon, uses interviews with historians and descendants of victims of forced labor alongside live-action scenes of actors performing specific stories. Laurence Fishburne narrates. The history of practices such as convict leasing (men who really shouldn't have been arrested in the first place were "leased" to corporations for services such as mining), chain gangs (where the Southern states used those same men for highway improvement), debt servitude/peonage and sharecropping is deeply discussed, with illustrations. We get to hear from a few descendants of the white businessmen and farmers involved.

I had a bitter taste in my mouth as I watched Slavery by Another Name, disgusted at the historical events it portrays, not the film itself. Director Samuel D. Pollard is the mind behind a few American Masters programs and a couple segments of the lauded Eyes on the Prize series. This documentary definitely has the feel of a PBS program -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The film's writer Sheila Curran Bernard will participate in a Q&A via Skype on Wednesday, moderated by Paul Stekler from the University of Texas Radio-Television-Film program (and a documentary filmmaker himself).

See the trailer for Slavery by Another Name below:

[Image of men in Birmingham, AL cell via Slavery By Another Name]