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List of films featuring slavery

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Film has been the most influential medium in the presentation of the history of slavery to the general public.[1][2] The American film industry has had a complex relationship with slavery, and until recent decades often avoided the topic. Films such as The Birth of a Nation (1915)[3] and Gone with the Wind (1939) became controversial because they gave a favorable depiction. In 1940, The Santa Fe Trail gave a strong condemnation of abolitionist John Brown's attacks on slavery.[4] The American civil rights movement in the 1950s made defiant slaves into heroes.[5]

Most Hollywood films used American settings, although Spartacus (1960) dealt with an actual slave revolt in the Roman Empire known as the Third Servile War.[6] It failed, and all the rebels were executed, but their spirit lived on according to the film.[7] The Last Supper (La última cena in Spanish) was a 1976 film directed by Cuban Tomás Gutiérrez Alea about the teaching of Christianity to slaves in Cuba and emphasizes the role of ritual and revolt. The 1969 film Burn! takes place on the imaginary Portuguese island of Queimada (where the locals speak Spanish) and merges historical events that took place in Brazil, Cuba, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, and elsewhere.[8]

List of films[edit]

The following dramatic and documentary films featuring slavery are listed alphabetically. (For movies portraying penal labour see the list linked from here.)

Film Year Description
12 Years a Slave 2013 The film is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery.[9]
13th (film) 2016 Documentary on the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution that allowed for slavery to continue for convicted prisoners.
500 Years Later 2005 Documentary covering the onset of slavery, colonialism subsequent, and how Africans are still struggling for basic freedom.
Abe Lincoln in Illinois 1940 The early life of Abraham Lincoln and his rise to becoming president.
Abraham Lincoln 1930 A biopic of Abraham Lincoln and his role as president during the American Civil War.
Aadujeevitham 2023 Survival drama about an Indian Malayali migrant enslaved in a farm in Saudi Arabia.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 1939 Mark Twain's title character befriends and takes a raft down the Mississippi River with Jim, an escaped slave hoping to win his freedom. Later films of the book were also made in 1960, 1973 (Soviet Union film Hopelessly Lost), 1974, 1975, 1976 (Japanese anime series), and 1993.
Aferim! 2015 Tragic adventure comedy telling the story of a bounty hunter in pursuit of a Romani slave in 1835 Wallachia.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God 1972 Set in the year 1560, Gonzalo Pizarro and a band of Spanish conquistadors as well as enslaved indigenous people, venture into the jungle in search of El Dorado.
Alex Haley's Queen 1993 Based on the life of Queen Jackson Haley, Alex Haley's paternal grandmother.
Amazing Grace 2006 Amazing Grace is a biographical movie about the Abolitionist William Wilberforce's campaign against the slave trade in the British Empire, and features the role of John Newton, the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace, in Wilberforce's campaign.
Amistad 1997 In 1839, a slave revolt takes place on the Spanish ship La Amistad which is heading to Cuba. Two white survivors are ordered to navigate the ship back to Africa, but navigate the ship to the United States instead. The slaves then have to fight for their freedom in court, where they are eventually defended by ex-U.S. president John Quincy Adams.[10]
Antebellum 2020 A modern-day African-American woman must escape from a 19th-century Southern slave plantation.
A Respectable Trade 1998 A four-part TV miniseries based on a historical novel.[11]
Ashanti 1979 Using modern-day slave-trading and set in Africa, a white doctor goes on a journey to find his wife who was mistaken for a native woman and kidnapped by slave traders while swimming. Getting no help from the police or the local authorities, the doctor gets a lead and tracks his missing wife across the country with a couple of allies.
Band of Angels 1957 Love story set around the US Civil War in which a plantation owner with a past raises a black slave as his son and buys a posh mixed-race slave girl.[12]
Battlefield Earth 2000 In this film, humanity has been enslaved by a race known as the Psychlos.[13]
Being Human 1994 Follows a single human soul through multiple lifetimes in human history, including as a slave in Ancient Rome.
Belle 2013 Story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed-race child of a British Royal Navy Officer, and her involvement in the legal case of the Zong massacre.
Beloved 1998 A former slave experiences flashbacks to her past as a slave.[10]
Ben-Hur 1925, 1959 & 2016 A first century Jewish prince is forced to become a galley slave.
The Birth of a Nation 1915 An American film that depicts African Americans in a negative light and glorified the Ku Klux Klan.
The Birth of a Nation 2016 Nat Turner, a former slave in America, leads a liberation movement in 1831 to free African-Americans in Virginia that results in a violent retaliation from whites.
The Book of Negroes 2015 A Canadian television series based on the book of the same name.
Boy Slaves 1939 An exposé of child labor. Children entrapped in peonage strike for better food, try to alert the government, but fail in these attempts.
Brother Future 1991 Brother Future is a science fiction movie. A street kid from Detroit, Michigan, is hit by a car, and when he awakens, he finds himself a slave in South Carolina in 1822. The boy then has to help his fellow slaves so that he can return to his own time.
Burn! 1969 An agent provocateur is sent to the fictional island of Queimada, a Portuguese colony in the Caribbean to replace the Portuguese administration by a formally sovereign state controlled by white latifundists friendly to Great Britain. To realize this project, the agent persuades the black slaves to fight for their liberation from slavery.
Caribbean Gold 1952
Cloud Atlas 2012 Plotlines involving escapes from historical and futuristic forms of slavery
C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America 2004 A faux British documentary of today reviewing American history, operating under the counter-historical premise that the Confederate States of America won the American Civil War, annexed all of the United States in the process, and thereby preserved and expanded slavery throughout the nation.
Descendant 2022 The story behind Africatown in Alabama, and the descendants of the last known enslaved Africans brought to the United States aboard the Clotilda.
Django Unchained 2012 In the American South in 1858, a black slave is purchased by a German dentist turned bounty hunter, and then agrees to help him track down a small group of corrupt overseers in exchange for his freedom and the rescuing of his wife from a cruel plantation owner.
Doutor Gama 2021 The history of the Brazilian Luís Gama: a man who illegally was sold off to be enslaved as a 10 year old by his own father to pay his debts in gambling and, after he takes his freedom as a 17 year old, he grows up to be an autodidact lawyer who defended the slaves who wanted their freedom or who were enslaved despise the law.
Drum 1976 The film, a sequel to Mandingo, features a black slave who falls in love with a plantation owner's daughter. When the owner threatens castration, the slave plans a revolt.[10]
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep 1966 This Godzilla film depicts a terrorist organization that has enslaved the inhabitants of Infant Island to manufacture heavy water.
El Cimarron 2007 Based on the life of Marcos Xiorro who conspired and planned a slave revolt in Puerto Rico in 1821.
Emancipation 2022 A slave, played by Will Smith, escapes a plantation in 1860. Based on the real life story of Gordon.
Emperor 2020 Based on the true story of Shields Green, an African American slave who escaped and participated in abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry.
Enslavement: The True Story of Fanny Kemble 2000 The film depicts the story of British actress and abolitionist Fanny Kemble, who becomes horrified by the treatment of her husband's enslaved people. Fanny later publishes her journals and their first-hand accounts of slavery, helping influence the British government's decision to withhold support of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.[14][15]
Escrava Isaura 1976 Brazilian television miniseries set in the 1860s.
Exodus: Gods and Kings 2014 This film is inspired by the biblical episode of The Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt led by Moses and related in the Book of Exodus.[citation needed]
Exterminate All the Brutes 2021 The four-part series follows colonization and multiple genocides, and the effect of both, alongside imperialism and white supremacy.
The Foxes of Harrow 1947 Covering approximately the years 1827–1837, an illegitimate son of an Irish aristocratic family comes to America. He is a gambler and scoundrel who acquires a large plantation with many slaves, and builds an empire in antebellum New Orleans. The movie was the first based upon a book written by an African-American writer.[10]
Free State of Jones 2016 Disenchanted confederate soldiers rally with runaway slaves to establish an abolitionist colony in Mississippi, led by Newton Knight, who fathers a child with a black woman. That story is framed by the one of his great-grandsons, who is prosecuted in 1948 for attempting to marry a white woman while possibly being of mixed descent.
Frederick Douglass and the White Negro 2008 A documentary telling the story of ex-slave, abolitionist, writer and politician Frederick Douglass and his escape to Ireland from America in the 1840s.
Freedom 2014 In the United States in the 1850s, a black man attempts to free his family from a tobacco plantation.[9]
Ganga Zumba 1963 Not released until 1972 because of a military coup in Brazil, the film highlights Ganga Zumba, a 17th-century slave revolutionary.
Gladiator 2000 A Roman general in the 2nd century A.D. is turned into a slave who must fight for his life, and his country, as a gladiator.
Glory 1989 During the American Civil War, an escaped slave joins an all-black fighting unit of the Union Army.[10]
Goodbye Uncle Tom 1971 Addio Zio Tom is a pseudo-documentary in which the filmmakers go back in time and visit antebellum America, using period documents to examine, in graphic detail, the racist ideology and degrading conditions faced by Africans under slavery.[10]
Gone with the Wind 1939 The film features a slave nursemaid as a prominent supporting character. Actress Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first African American woman to win an Academy Award.[10]
Harriet 2019 Based on the true story of Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery then worked to free hundreds more.
The Horse Soldiers 1959 Follows a fictionalized Union cavalry raid in which a plantation mistress and slave are taken captive to maintain secrecy.
A House Divided: Denmark Vesey's Rebellion 1982 A 1982 television film about Denmark Vesey, a literate skilled carpenter and former slave who planned a slave rebellion in 1822 in Charleston, South Carolina.
I Am Slave 2010 A U.K. television story of one woman's fight for freedom from modern-day slavery, based on the experience of Mende Nazer, a British author, human rights activist, and a former slave in Sudan.
Ill Gotten Gains 1997 Independent film about the Atlantic slave trade
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 1984 In the film, enslaved children are forced to mine for Sankara stones.
Jefferson in Paris 1995 The film shows the relationship between Thomas Jefferson, who was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a slave owner, and Sally Hemings, a biracial slave.[10]
Joseph 1995 The biblical story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph is an Egyptian slave who earns a reputation as an interpreter of dreams.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat 1999 Joseph's biblical story portrayed in a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, starred Donny Osmond as Joseph.
Joseph: King of Dreams 2000 The Biblical story of Joseph portrayed in an animated musical.
The Journey of August King 1995 A widowed farmer reluctantly provides safe passage to a run-away slave as he returns home from an annual trip to purchase provisions and supplies, starring Jason Patric as August King and Thandie Newton as Annalees.
The Keeping Room 2014 The film takes place during the American Civil War. Three women in the South have to protect their home against soldiers of the Union Army.[9]
K.G.F: Chapter 1 2018 A Kannada movie based on a True story of a gold mine in Kolar and its slaves
Kuruvi 2008
The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman 1974 American television film based on the novel of the same name by Ernest J. Gaines.
The Last Supper 1976 A plantation owner during Spanish colonial times recreates the last supper using slaves, in order to teach them about Christianity.
The Legend of Nigger Charley 1972 The blaxploitation film takes place in America in the Antebellum South. It follows three slaves seeking their freedom.
The Legend of Tarzan 2016 George Washington Williams convinces Tarzan (John Clayton III, the Earl of Greystoke) to travel back to Africa to investigate claims of an ongoing slave trade.
Lincoln 2012 Near the end of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln pushes to abolish slavery in the U.S. by urging Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[10]
The Littlest Rebel 1935
Manderlay 2005 Set in the early 1930s, the film tells the story of Grace, an idealist who attempts to oust the owners of a plantation in Alabama and free the slaves living there.
Mandinga (film) 1976 Italian film inspired by Mandingo.[16]
Mandingo 1975 A slave owner insists that his son, who is sleeping with the slaves, marry a white woman and father him a son. He marries, and trains a Mandingo slave to be a bare-knuckle fighter.
Motherland 2010 Documentary sequel to 500 Years Later, the film gives an overview of the history of the African continent and its people from Ancient Egypt to the present.
Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property 2003 Documentary film about Nat Turner
Nightjohn 1996 A young slave girl, Sarny, is taught to read by John, a slave who has given up freedom in the Northern United States in order to teach slaves how to read.
North and South 1985–1994 A three-part TV miniseries outlining the period leading to and during the American civil war, and the post-war Reconstruction.
The North Star 2016 The film is based on "the true story of Big Ben Jones, a slave who escaped from a Southern plantation in 1848 and is helped by local Quakers".[9]
Passage du milieu 1999 Docudrama about a trans-Atlantic slave ship voyage of black slaves from the West Coast of Africa to the Caribbean, a part of the triangular slave trade route called the Middle Passage.
Paradesi 2013 A Tamil language movie that is based on true events that took place in a tea plantation during the 1930s.
Prince Among Slaves 2006 A PBS historical documentary about the life of Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori, a prince from West Africa who was made a slave in the United States and freed 40 years later on orders of the American president, John Quincy Adams.
The Prince of Egypt 1998 Former Prince Moses frees the Hebrew slaves from the Pharaoh of Egypt.
The Quest for Freedom 1992 The life of escaped slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman
Quilombo 1984 Account of Quilombo dos Palmares, a 17th-century Brazilian community of escaped slaves. Features its one-time leader, Zumbi.
Raiders of the Seven Seas 1953
The Retrieval 2013 During the American Civil War, a young free boy is sent north by his bounty hunter gang to retrieve a wanted fugitive slave.
Roots 1977 An acclaimed eight-episode TV mini-series based on Alex Haley's biography about his family moving from slavery to liberation.[10]
Roots 2016 A four-episode remake of the 1977 miniseries.
Roots: The Gift 1988 A film portraying events occurring between the second and third episodes of the first miniseries.
Sankofa 1993 In the supernatural film, an African American model travels to Ghana and is transported back in time by a local mystic. The model finds herself a slave in the past.[10]
Santa Fe Trail 1940 Western centered around abolitionist John Brown, his attacks on slavery as a prelude to the Civil War, and the attempt to find his hideout and stop his violent campaign.
Savannah 2013 Loosely based on the book Ducks, Dogs and Friends, the film is about a white hunter who befriends a freed slave.[9]
Seven Angry Men 1955 Follows John Brown's campaign to end slavery and his raid on Harper's Ferry.
The Slave Hunters 2010 Slave hunter goes after an escaped General-turned-slave in this South Korean 24-episode television series.
Slaves 1969 Follows the life of two slaves in the American South of the 1850s.
Slavers [de] 1977 Two competing slave traders fight between each other for the monopoly on the slave trade.[17]
Slavery and the Making of America 2005 American slavery history including slavery during the American Civil War.
Slavery by Another Name 2012 Adaptation of the book into a 90-minute documentary film.
Skin Game 1971 American independent comedy western
Song of the South 1946 Based on the Uncle Remus stories and during the Reconstruction Era, the film follows seven-year-old Johnny visiting his grandfather's plantation and befriending Uncle Remus who tells him stories of Br'er Rabbit. Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear. Actor James Baskett won an Academy Honorary Award for portraying Uncle Remus, becoming the first African-American man to win an Academy Award.
Solomon Northup's Odyssey 1984 The film is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, DC in 1841 and sold into slavery.[18]
Spartacus 1960, 2004, 2010-2013 In Spartacus, a film that stays close to the historical record,[19] a Thracian enslaved as a gladiator by the Roman Republic leads a slave revolt that engulfs much of the Italian peninsula.

The Netflix series Roman Empire has an episode on Caesar and his war against Spartacus in Season 2 episode 1.

Stealing a Nation 2004 Recounts the experiences of the people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean by the establishment of an American military base. Video
Tamango 1958 A slave ship crosses the Atlantic, and the slaves rebel. A film by Hollywood blacklisted director John Berry starring Dorothy Dandridge and Curd Jürgens.
The Ten Commandments 1923 & 1956 Biblical story of the life of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who becomes the deliverer of his real brethren, the enslaved Hebrews.
Toussaint Louverture 2012 French language film based on the life of Toussaint Louverture, leader of the Haitian emancipation revolution.
Tula: The Revolt 2013 In 1795 on Curaçao, then a Dutch colony, a slave uprising takes place.[9]
The Viking 1928 Lord Alwin is captured in a Viking raid and taken to Norway as a slave.[20]
Unchained Memories 2003 An HBO documentary featuring the stories of former slaves interviewed during the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project. It compiles slave narratives which are narrated by actors emulating the original conversation with the interviewer.
Uncle Tom's Cabin 1903 Many film adaptations of Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel have been made, nine from the silent era (including those of 1910, 1918, and 1927), and a German version in 1965.
Unrepentant: Kevin Annett and Canada's Genocide 2007 Film about the residential school state system in Canada and its impact on indigenous peoples.[21]
Utopia 2013 A documentary film about Indigenous Australians and the impact of settler colonialism on them. Video
Welcome II the Terrordome 1995 A British dystopian science fiction–drama film that follows the interactions of a black family and supporting characters reincarnated from the Igbo Landing to a fictional modern ghetto.[22][23]
A Woman Called Moses 1978 A miniseries about the life and career of the African American abolitionist and slave escape leader, Harriet Tubman.
A Woman Captured 2017 A documentary about a woman who is kept as domestic slave in Europe.[24][25]
Yambaó 1956 Mexican film about the life of Yambaó, a young mulatta with supposed black magic powers who fell in love with the master of a sugar cane plantation in Cuba in 1850. Starring the Mexican Rumberas film star Ninón Sevilla.
Zama 2017 The film is set in the late 18th century in a remote South American colony under the Spanish Empire, and portrays the period's "naturalness of slavery".[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael T. Martin and David C. Wall, "The Politics of Cine-Memory: Signifying Slavery in the History Film," in Robert A. Rosenstone and Constantin Parvulesu, eds. A Companion to the Historical Film (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), p67.
  2. ^ Andrews, K. (2016). The Psychosis of Whiteness: The Celluloid Hallucinations of Amazing Grace and Belle. Journal of Black Studies, 47(5), 435-453. doi:10.1177/0021934716638802
  3. ^ Melvyn Stokes, D.W. Griffith's the Birth of a Nation: A History of the Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time (2008)
  4. ^ Robert E. Morsberger, "Slavery and 'The Santa Fe Trail,' or, John Brown on Hollywood's Sour Apple Tree," American Studies (1977) 18#2 pp. 87–98. online
  5. ^ Hernán Vera; Andrew M. Gordon (2003). Screen saviors: Hollywood fictions of whiteness. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 54–56. ISBN 9780847699476.
  6. ^ Jarus, Owen (17 September 2013). "Spartacus: History of Gladiator Revolt Leader". LiveScience. Purch. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  7. ^ Natalie Zemon Davis, Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision (2002) ch 2
  8. ^ Natalie Zemon Davis, Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision (2002) ch 3
  9. ^ a b c d e f Samuel, Allison (March 15, 2013). "How 2013 Became the Year of the Slavery Film". The Daily Beast. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Staff (2012). "12 Films That Dared to Tackle Slavery". The Root. Archived from the original on July 23, 2013. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  11. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0154083/?ref_=ttls_li_tt [user-generated source]
  12. ^ "Top Grosses of 1957". Variety. January 8, 1958.
  13. ^ Serafino, Jason (June 4, 2013). "5 Movies Influenced By Scientology". Complex. Retrieved 2016-01-13.
  14. ^ Berson, Misha (April 23, 2000). "'Enslavement' takes some liberties with abolitionist Fanny Kemble's tale". The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  15. ^ Kronke, David (April 21, 2000). "Hysterical drama of historical figure". Los Angeles Daily News. MediaNews Group. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  16. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074855/?ref_=ttls_li_tt [user-generated source]
  17. ^ https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075230/ [user-generated source]
  18. ^ Corry, John (February 13, 1985). "TV Review; 'Solomon Northrup's Odyssey,' Story of a Slave". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Davis, Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision (2002) ch 3
  20. ^ "The Viking (1928)". IMDB.
  21. ^ Hidden from History: The Canadian Holocaust: The Untold Story of the Aboriginal Genocide Archived 2005-05-10 at the Wayback Machine. Hidden from History.org. Accessed 4 March 2009.
  22. ^ Elley, Derek (12 February 1995). "Welcome II the Terrordome". Variety. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  23. ^ Jones, Ellen E (23 July 2020). "Has Terrordome's time come? How a black British film found its moment". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  24. ^ Phillips, Charlie (9 June 2018). "A Woman Captured review – brave and up-close story of modern slavery". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  25. ^ Lodge, Guy (14 January 2018). "Film Review: 'A Woman Captured'". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  26. ^ Koza, Roger (September 24, 2017). "El arte de la espera: esta semana se estrena "Zama", de Lucrecia Martel". La Voz del Interior (in Spanish). Retrieved November 19, 2017.