Monday, October 21, 2013
If You Were Forming a Study Group About the Movie "12 Years a Slave" What Materials Would You Assign?
The above discussion on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC show about the movie 12 Years a Slave is well-worth watching.
I am going to do a few posts this week about the movie. I shared some preliminary thoughts here. I will be seeing the movie again today. At some point this week, I will offer up something more extensive and cohesive--I know where I want to go; I need to be sure about the destination. This will only come to me after a second or third viewing of the film.
12 Years a Slave is eliciting much praise, emotion, and pain on the part of moviegoers.
My hope is that people will not stop with the feeling of pained emotions and shock at the relative verisimilitude of the violence depicted on black bodies owned as human property in 12 Years a Slave. We/Us must go farther in our efforts to understand the events depicted in that movie.
While I disagree with the suggestion that 12 Years a Slave is "torture porn", I am worried that if viewers treat the movie as the end and not the beginning of learning about the centuries-long institution that was white ownership of black bodies in the Americas, a state of affairs that was a central means for wealth creation in the "New World", then that claim is ultimately proven correct.
Moreover, an emphasis on the pain and suffering shown in the movie 12 Years a Slave without an accompanying exercise in truth-seeking and expanding one's understanding of both the specific facts and context for the American Slavecracy, does in fact reduce the events in the film to a voyeuristic pornography of violence.
After watching 12 Years a Slave, I do hope that folks read the book (at the very least), and then watch documentaries about the global African slave trade--and this is truly wishful thinking--as well as start a study group or reading circle about chattel slavery in the West. Unfortunately, so many people confuse empty Tweets, Facebook "likes", and related acts on social media for the real work necessary to mate personal interest with social change work in the real world.
Ultimately, such a response to 12 Years a Slave would be an example of such processes in practice.
But, we can still introduce a corrective. We have a varied readership here on We Are Respectable Negroes. For those of you who have seen 12 Years a Slave, or alternatively have thought about, read about, and meditated upon American history, African-American slavery, or its many related subjects, what books, articles, songs, or films, would you assign to a study group that wants to truly expand their knowledge about the context and events depicted in the film?
Suggesting such materials can be difficult: I know that if not careful, I will overwhelm readers with books and the like. I am also not a historian. I am however very interested in what a person trained in the specific sub-field of Southern American history during the 18th and 19th centuries, and who studies American slavery, would suggest in terms of reading materials for 12 Years a Slave.
I am eager to learn from them.
My list would begin with the following materials (and excluding the obvious, that the book 12 Years a Slave should be the first assignment for the reading group). These are my personal favorites on the topic of African-American slavery (and its aftermath) in the West. This list is far from comprehensive. But, I would argue that these materials are all excellent and important for those us trying to make sense of the movie 12 Years a Slave.
What would you add to the list?
1. The Autobiography of Olaudah Equiano
2. Kindred by Octavia Butler
3. Questioning Slavery by James Walvin
4. Many Thousands Gone by Ira Berlin
5. Slavery and Social Death by Orlando Patterson
6. Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market by Walter Johnson
7. The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker
8. White Over Black by Winthrop Jordan
9. Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams
10. A Nation Under Our Feet by Steven Hahn
11. A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartoleme De Las Casas
12. Stedman's Suriname by John Gabriel Stedman
13. Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon
14. Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom by Elsa Barkley Brown
15. Roll, Jordan Roll by Eugene Genovese
16. Party/Politics by Michael Hanchard
17. Trouble in Mind by Leon Liftwhack
18. The African Diaspora by Patrick Manning
19. Children of Fire by Tom Holt
20. From Slavery to Freedom by John Hope Franklin
21. The Confederate States of America by Greg Kirsch
22. "Slave Traders" in the anthology movie series Cosmic Slop
23. Sankofa by Alexander Duah
24. Goodbye Uncle Tom by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi
25. The Mind of the Master Class by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
26. Black Holocaust for Beginners by S.E. Anderson
27. Caste, Class, and Race by Oliver Cox