Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives
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When the Civil War ended in 1865, more than four million slaves were set free. Over 70 years later, the memories of some 2,000 slave-era survivors were transcribed and preserved by the Library of Congress. These first-person anecdotes, ranging from the brutal to the bittersweet, have been brought to vivid life in this unique HBO documentary special, featuring the on-camera voices of over a dozen top African-American actors.]]>
Top Customer Reviews
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.
As I was being educated about my ancestors, I could not help but feel pride. I felt the depts of thier pain by listening to these narratives.
These people, lived without shoes, ate very little, got whipped for the smallest of "crimes," but managed to survive, and to care for one another and to build families--if only for a little while.
I bought this DVD and will buy the book. Too bad they did not offer it in a set.
The readings are by a variety of actors each of whom give dimension to the printed words. However, much of what is in the texts was so well expressed by the former slaves that even a monotone reading would have been enlightening. My favorite is of the man who risked his life rowing run away slaves to Ohio. He began only because his first passenger was so beautiful that he forgot his fear and thought of her the whole way. From this experience, he regularly took others despite his own enslavement. Later, his experience allowed him to free himself and his family.
The language and atmosphere of the times are fully experienced in this documentary. I would wish for those with romantic ideas of the ante bellum period to view this film and read from the text instead of encasing themselves in southern sympathy novels and pseudo history books. However, I would have liked to have seen a copy of the movie minus the actors preparations for their readings. It's not a serious problem for me, but I am only curious to compare whether the flow of the film would have improved or not. It was as though the filmmaker didn't trust the audience to know how they should react and used the actors to guide the viewer. Or perhaps they wanted to show the celebrities so as to better sell the film.
What this 75-minute documentary does is recreate those interviews with actors reciting word for word from those personal slave narratives. Along with period photos and occasional recreated film footage, what you get is a deeply moving look at the most shameful period in our nation's history.
While I agree with some of the detractors that some of the actors get a bit too much screen time, it's still difficult not to be moved by these first-person accounts. The variety of voice actors used really bring these stories to life. [I was especially pleased to see Courtney B Vance--who was Miss Watson's Jim in the most recent film adaptation of "Huck Finn."]
In addition, there are a couple of fascinating bonus features. One is a nearly 24-minute taped interview with ex-slave Fountain Hughes at the age of 101. Also of interest, is a 5-minute interview with Yvonne Beatty, who accompanied her father Samuel who was one of the Federal Writers Project interviewers.
Overall, this documentary makes for compelling viewing. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Superb Re-enactment from all those involved!!! The actors/actresses weren't just reading narratives about slaves, they were re-living those moments. Read morePublished 6 months ago by M. Allen
Incredible accounts of men and women who actually lived as slaves! This should be a part of the general curriculum in high schools across the country!Published 15 months ago by Teresa Coluchi
Fast, fast delivery, a great collection of slave narratives. The actors readings really brings the narratives to life.Published 15 months ago by LeslieRose
Everyone, and I mean everyone needs to hear these stories. Their voices need to be kept alive so that we shall never forget.Published 16 months ago by Melanie Holmes
Can't even find the words to describe this. Trials, tragedy & triumphant wrap up in one. I love being a part of such a great history.Published on April 22, 2014 by CARMEL CLARKE
When teaching the painful past of savers this film opens up the opportunity to hear the stories from those who experienced it. Read morePublished on April 20, 2013 by Kristine Courtial
Unchained Memories provides an accurate description of slavery. I was lectured by a professor who conducted some of the interviews.Published on March 18, 2013 by John Truesdell, Jr
Excellent documentary about slavery, first-hand, from the mouths of slaves who survived, and lived to tell about it. Read morePublished on March 2, 2013 by Anna-Lisa
primary source documentation of the horrors of slavery and the courage and resourcefulness of the people who survived it. Read morePublished on February 22, 2013 by mike wormsley