01Enslavement of Africans and African Americans was a practice right since early colonial days when the US was still under British rule. It wasn’t made illegal upon independence. It was only during the American Civil War when slavery was legally abolished.
One of the most horrific mass crimes against humanity itself, it has always been a subject of importance for the film industry.
The films that highlight the pain suffered by black people as slaves to the white people are hard-hitting and give you a reality check of the dark eras of the now developed nation of the US. They make you realize how lucky you are to be in a world that respects freedom of an individual, regardless of race.
And unlike other mediums of communication, films have the capacity to put you into the world of its characters, which makes the suffering very real and intense for the viewer.
Let’s check out the list of Best films on American Slavery.
Table of Contents
All-Time Best Movies on American Slavery
12 Years a Slave (2013)
A period drama film, adapted from a narrative memoir from 1853, it leaves no stones unturned in depicting the sufferings of Solomon Northup who is originally a free black man but he gets kidnapped and sold as a slave into plantations in 1841.
Northup has to struggle with the contrast between his past and his current situation, not to mention, he has to keep his original identity secret. The film takes the viewer through the seemingly endless state of slavery as years keep passing by.
This film does not shy when it comes to engaging its viewers with the visuals and sounds of barbaric violence. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer makes sure one feels the intensity of inhumane treatment meted out to the slaves. It is considered to be the best film on slavery in the United States by many and it certainly deserves the highest recognition.
Django Unchained (2012)
An anti-Western film directed by Quentin Tarantino. The central theme of the film is ‘revenge’. Characteristic of Tarantino, this film is highly entertaining. With all the negative aspects of racism, sexism, violence, drugs, rape, etc. it is like a hot cauldron.
Jamie Foxx plays a revengeful slave, Django Freeman, who is freed by a German bounty hunter. They then travel to the South together, ultimately attempting to free Foxx’s slave wife from the plantation owned by Monsieur Calvin Candie played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Also, Samuel Jackson plays a loyal and brutal slave owned by the Monsieur.
This film treats its viewer with hard-hitting emotional experiences, almost provocative in its nature. Django Unchained is one of the best Movies on American Slavery.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
A classic American film, set in the civil war era. An adhering adaption from the novel of the same name.
The film’s protagonist is Scarlett O’Hara, daughter of a plantation owner in Georgia. One of the early cinematic female characters consumed with lusts and passion. Her journey in the film progresses with her resistance to the social norms, esp. to male domination.
Quite lengthy in nature, this film has an overwhelming runtime of 3h 58m and yet it is gripping throughout. It was quite a high-value production of its time, a visual treat in Technicolor for its viewers at the time. Often considered one of the most artistic masterpieces of American cinema.
A war film starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman.
Set in the civil war, it is about the legendary 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry of the Union Army consisting of only African-American men and from the lens of Colonel Shaw, the white commanding officer.
This was when no one thought black soldiers could be good soldiers. This regiment was also involved in one of the bloodiest actions of the civil war against a Confederate fort in Charleston, South Carolina. It also brings up the issue of discriminatory pay against black soldiers of the same grade as the white soldiers.
An epic historical drama film produced & directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th US President Abraham Lincoln.
It focuses on the last four months of Lincoln’s life, around Jan 1865, when he was making efforts to have the 13th Amendment passed by the US House of Representatives. More than Lincoln, this film is about the war over slavery. It bares open the white reluctance to pass a law granting freedom to African-American slaves and treating them as equals.
The performance of Daniel Day-Lewis & production value of Spielberg has been lauded by many. It is a cinematic delight stirred up by Spielberg’s brilliant cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski.
It is a drama film from the country of Burkina Faso in West Africa, focusing on the Atlantic slave trade.
The word ‘Sankofa’ in Akan language means “go back, look for, and gain wisdom, power and hope” stressing importance on learning from one’s past to progress in future.
The story sets off in Ghana where the protagonist Mona, an African-American model is on a visit for the film shoot. She enters the Cape Coast Castle (used for the slave trade in past) and enters into a trance, transported to the past where slave masters capture her and take her into a plantation in the Southern United States.
A lot of sexual violence is inflicted upon her, the scenes challenge the morals where it might feel justified to kill the perpetrators.
It is an American historical drama film, directed by Steven Spielberg based on events that occurred in 1839 on the slave ship called La Amistad.
This film deals with aspects of law as an incident sparks off an international legal battle, as the kidnapped Mende tribals rebel and take over the Spanish ship off the Cuban coast which was en route United States and end up on the east coast.
The case is called the United States vs Schooner Amistad, with the US Supreme Court left to decide whether the ‘slaves’ were bought legally or illegally brought from Africa. Most of the film deals with how the case proceeds in the court.
Slavery by Another Name (2012)
An eye-opener documentary film based on the book of the same name by Douglas Blackmon, directed by Samuel Pollard.
It depicts how the slavery continued as a practice for decades after its legal abolition. It consists of interviews with descendants of forced laborers and their white masters.
It also shows how the legal system in the Southern United States was frequently misused to trap the newly freed slaves back into servitude using force and brutality.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927)
It is one of the most iconic and powerful films of American cinema; based on the novel of the same name. It is used extensively for learning purposes in educational institutions and also preserved in the American Library of Congress.
The story is set in 1856. The slave Eliza intends to marry her lover George with the consent of her masters, the Shelbys, but the owner of George prevents the wedding. The story progresses with what she does next upon learning of evil intentions of Shelbys.
The Birth of a Nation (2016)
An American-Canadian period drama film based on a true story of the slave Nat Turner who led a rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia back in Aug 1831.
Nat is originally tasked with using his preaching skills, being the only educated slave, to suppress unruly slaves of the plantations but when he sets out onto the ground and sees atrocities by the white slavers, he gathers up followers and devises an insurrection hoping for freedom.
These are the Best Movies on American Slavery, do comment which one is your favorite or you can mention the missing Hollywood Films on American Slavery in the comment section.