Review by Dan Skip Allen
America hasn't been around as long as other countries in the world, but in its time as an established country, it has a long history. Human slavery has been documented, especially how these men and women got over to this country, but the history books are a bit murky on some of these events. Descendant documents one such event in the history of slavery and forced migration involving Timothy Meaher and the Clotilde sailing to Mobile, Alabama, and eventually burning the evidence in the river.
Descendant deals with the people still alive related to those on that boat captained by Bill Foster. It deals with who owns the property and land around the area called Africatown, once known as Plateau and Magazine. How does this all play into the reparations of what happened to the people? And what, as descendants, do these families deserve? These are huge questions once this ship is found.
Human decency is something everyone deserves, especially those who have been persecuted, like these people who were illegally transported from their homes in Africa to the United States. This journey caused a movement in this country that caused one of the worst instances of human trafficking in the history of the world. When you think of it, it's just a tragic event, along with many others, that caused a bad time in our country's history for many people.
This documentary has several talking heads, including some of the descendants of the surviving members of this boat trip to America: Lorna Woods, Emmett Lewis, Jocelyn Davis, and Zora Neal Thurston, the first Black Filmmaker in America. The main descendant, Cudjoe Lewis, survived and passed on this story to his relatives, which is how this story persevered in this community and the state of Alabama.
The documentary goes into a few other things besides the ship for slaves, though. It goes into land rights and ownership of property, how these people who still live in Mobile deserve to be honored, and environmental issues that continue to this very day to be a problem in the community. Once again a disrespect to the descendants.
Documentaries should inform and educate, and Descendant does just that. As someone who wasn't familiar with this story before, I was completely enamored by it and glued to the screen as these people were explaining this whole situation and how this community was affected by this one boat trip. These people suffered a lot for their history and deserve this opportunity to see their story depicted in this fashion. It's a tribute to their ancestors and a very good film on top of that.
Descendant is now streaming on Netflix.