Where I Watched it: Netflix
English Audio Description Provided by: International Digital center
Written By: Liz Gutman
Narrated By: Sri Gordon
I can’t tell you how many of the over 250 films I’ve seen and reviewed this year I knew next to nothing about. Often, I just get the little blurb that the streamer provides, and that’s probably the most problematic part of this film for me. I felt like it wasn’t what it was supposed to be, but I’m not sure that the filmmakers have any control over that.
Descendant was marketed with the hook being about this slave ship being located off the coast of Alabama, and the efforts to recover any part of history from it as possible. I mean, the ship is mentioned, and it is a thing in the movie, but it’s not what the film is about.
What the film is actually about amounts to more of an Erin Brockovich/Dark waters type story where the documentarians take a look at this community in Alabama, Africatown, and how the residents have managed to keep their culture alive in this place since it was formed shortly after the Civil War as a town for freed slaves to start building their own community and life. Fighting for land ownership, business ownership, and how that reflects today, with major companies coming in near the town and potentially causing an elevated cancer cluster in this community. Free, but not really free. The long time residents of Africatown watch as some company leases the land out to these big companies, and there’s nothing they can do about it. Their once thriving community is struggling, still today, years and years later. And the kicker is, it’s largely due to the same family many of them trace their heritage back to, as their descendants were former slaves of theirs.
That nefarious plot line is far more interesting than the subplot about some white saviors coming in to help find a ship. Honestly, that just feels like an afterthought, and this doc should really be called Africatown.
So, while I don’t have a real specific problem with the film, and found much of it compelling, there’s this nagging part of me that wonders what happened to the slave ship angle. Was that something Netflix thought made sense to push? Was that the original intention, but when they started investigating Africatown, it became the focus? I don’t know, but there’s a part of me that is slightly disconnected because I’m not sure what this was suppose to be or even if the filmmakers realized that they made a different film.
The audio description here was important in that it described the characters and addressed the racial differences up front. Since this feature is rooted heavily in black history, it makes sense for the focus to be on interviewing black people. So, when the occasional white guy shows up, we notice the difference. And, we also get many descriptions of this town, and how it continues to exist unapologetically black.
I hope this documentary at least brings more attention to the plight of the residents of Africatown, who seem to still be getting shafted today. I guess it’s just too much to hope that in 2022, people would choose to do the right thing. instead, hopefully making a documentary about this will force their hand.
Episode Grade: A-