A film by Ed Bell and Thomas Lennon

This HBO documentary is a powerful film. In the 1930 s the United States government commissioned journalists to conduct interviews with those former slaves who were still living. The result was a collection of more than 16 volumes of interviews, the words of former slaves about their experiences. The interviews were transcribed with the way these men and women spoke, in their vernacular. This film is a documentary made up of actors reading some of these interviews to tell the story of slavery and what it was like for these men and women. The documentary uses photos and old video footage to augment the slave narratives. Along with the photos and video footage, we also see the actors reading the narratives, speaking in character. This film is narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and features readings by: Angela Bassett, Don Cheadle, Samuel L Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, Jasmine Guy, Ossie Davis, Courtney B Vance, Alfe Woodard, and others.

The strongest part of this film, as you might expect, is hearing the words of the former slaves and see photographs from that time. This is powerful, powerful stuff. What is less effective is seeing the actors read the narratives. They are perfectly in character, but seeing the actors sitting there delivering the lines is less powerful than just hearing it. Unfortunately, the film also shows the actors right before and after they read the narratives. While the actors are very moved by what they have read and they are very respectful towards the material, it takes us out of the moment and pulls back from the power of the words. This only happens a couple of times, fortunately.

I would definitely recommend this film, especially to high school and college students. This should be part of the curriculum and not be ignored or skipped over, like the subject often is. These narratives are powerful and moving. Highly recommended.

4 out of 5 pugs....though i don't quite feel right giving this a rating.