We all know that American history is deeply rooted in slavery. However, not many people are aware of the vast number of movies about this topic. Movies can help us to understand how it feels to be on either side of the situation – slaves or slave owners.
From thriller to drama, these 12 movies will leave you feeling enlightened and educated about an important time period in US History!
1. Roots (1977)
Roots is a mini-series that tells the story of Kunta Kinte, an African man captured and sold into slavery in America. As a child he was taken from his village in The Gambia where he lived with his mother Umu; father Juffureh; brother Kwame; and sister Nyo. His village is located inland, near a river that provides fish for the villagers to eat.
Kunta spends his early days’ herding goats with his brother Kwame while Umu teaches them of their past chiefs through stories she tells at night around the fire. One day Kunta takes one of these goats on a walk too far from the village and is captured by slave hunters.
2. Glory (1989)
Glory tells the story of the first all-black regiment to fight in the Civil War, with Denzel Washington playing Private Trip, a runaway slave who joins up. The film follows the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment from their initial formation through several key battles, culminating in the attack on Fort Wagner.
The film also stars Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick. This film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won three: Best Supporting Actor for Washington, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.
3. Amistad (1997)
Amistad is a historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the true story of the 1839 slave revolt aboard the Spanish schooner La Amistad. The screenplay was written by David Franzoni and based on an early draft of the novel “Mutiny on the Amistad” by Howard Jones.
The film stars Djimon Hounsou as Cinque, Matthew McConaughey as John Quincy Adams, Anthony Hopkins as Roger Baldwin, and Morgan Freeman as Theodore Joadson. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won two: Best Supporting Actor for Hounsou and Best Cinematography for Roger Deakins. It was also nominated for Best Director, losing to Kenneth Branagh from “Henry V” (1989).
4. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
12 Years a Slave is an American biographical period drama film based on the 1853 autobiographic slave narrative book of the same name by Solomon Northup and directed by Steve McQueen. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, an African-American man who was kidnapped in New York State in 1841 and sold into slavery on a cotton plantation near the Red River Delta of Louisiana for 12 years before being released.
5. The Help (2011)
The Help is an American period drama film directed and written by Tate Taylor and adapted from Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel of the same name. The film stars Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, and Cicely Tyson.
6. Django Unchained (2012)
Django Unchained is an American western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, starring Jamie Foxx as the titular character alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Dennis Christopher, M.C. Gainey, and Samuel L. Jackson. The film is about a man named Django (Foxx) who sets out to rescue his wife from an evil plantation owner (DiCaprio), with the help of an unorthodox bounty hunter Dr. Schultz (Waltz).
7. Lincoln (2012)
Lincoln is a 2012 American biographical historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the United States President Abraham Lincoln. The film also stars Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, and John Hawkes.
The screenplay was written by Tony Kushner and is based on the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The film was produced by Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, and Kristie Macosko Krieger. It received twelve Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won two awards: Best Actor for Day-Lewis and Best Production Design for Rick Carter and Jim Erickson.
8: The Birth of a Nation (1915)
The Birth of a Nation is an American silent epic drama film, directed by D. W. Griffith and released in 1915. It was based on the novel and play “The Clansman” by Thomas Dixon, Jr. Griffith’s innovative techniques and storytelling power have made The Birth of a Nation one of the landmarks of film history.
9. Sankofa (1993)
Sankofa is a 1993 film directed by Haile Gerima about a woman who travels back in time to retrieve an art piece that was taken from her ancestors. The film deals with issues of slavery, racism, and cultural identity. It has been praised for its powerful visuals and strong performances.
Sankofa premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1993 and was released in the United States later that year. It has been screened at numerous film festivals and won several awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Pan African Film Festival. In 2003, it was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
10. Exodus: Gods and Kings
Exodus: Gods and Kings is an epic biblical action film that tells the story of Moses and his journey to lead slaves out of Egypt. This was a great movie! I loved how it depicted parts from one of my favorite books in detail. The special effects were amazing too. It is definitely worth watching if you get the chance, even though there’s nothing really groundbreaking in terms of the plot. Some parts seemed a little rushed, but overall it was very enjoyable and I’ll try to watch it again soon!
Exodus: Gods and Kings is an epic biblical action film that tells the story of Moses and his journey to lead slaves out of Egypt. The special effects were amazing too. It’s definitely worth watching if you get the chance, even though there’s nothing really groundbreaking in terms of the plot.
11. The Pianist (2002)
The Pianist (2002) is a film starring Adrien Brody and directed by Roman Polanski. It is based on the autobiographical book of the same name written by Władysław Szpilman who was an accomplished Polish pianist, composer and songwriter before World War II broke out in 1939.
He escaped from Nazi-occupied Warsaw to live with a good Christian family in the countryside, but his mother was killed by a bomb that fell on their house.
12. I Am Slave (2010)
I Am Slave (2010) is a British-Swiss drama film written by Jeremy Brock and directed by Michael Apted. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah Paulson, Lubna Azabal, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, and Nikola Rakocevic. The film is based on the true story of Mende Nazer and her husband, former Sudanese slave Simon Deng.
It was released in the United Kingdom on 16 August 2010 and in the United States on 30 September 2010 by Picturehouse.
The film was nominated for the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but it did not receive a theatrical release in France or any other country. It received positive reviews from critics and has been praised by human rights groups as well as Sudanese activists.