Monday, February 16, 2015

HU Welcomes BET's The Book of Negroes' Star to Campus


HU Welcomes BET's The Book of Negroes' Star to Campus

Hampton University and BET presented an early screening of BET’s newest mini-series “The Book of Negroes,” starring Aunjanue Ellis, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Louis Gossett, Jr. on February 4 in Ogden Hall. Leading actress Ellis answered questions in a panel discussion following the screening.

Audience had very thought-provoking questions for Ellis during the Q&A afterwards.
The mini-series, based on Lawrence Hill’s novel, “Someone Knows My Name,” tells the dramatic journey and life of Aminata Diallo (played by Ellis), a young West African girl, abducted from her village and sold into slavery in South Carolina. It further shares a side of history that many people are unaware of.

“Our understanding of [Black] participation in the Revolutionary War begins and ends with Crispus Attucks being the first to die on the American side,” said Ellis, “but this series captures the stories behind Blacks fighting on the British side during the War for Independence and then being promised freedom and safe passage to Nova Scotia.”

Such history is voided in many textbooks and classrooms, and it is imperative that we learn of these stories beyond slavery, and get a better grasp of “Black History being a World History.”

"Our history isn’t just something to put on a document or in a photograph on the wall," said Ellis, the SAG-award winning actress for her role in “The Help,” “but it is something that we need to live by and forever learn from.”
Ellis posses with good friend Dr. Charrita Danley, HU Executive Assistant
to the President, and HU President Dr. William R. Harvey.

The mini-series is different from most slave narratives because it is told from a woman’s perspective—and one that can easily be described as a feminist.

Ellis describes her character Aminata Diallo as both a revolutionist and feminist, especially the jaw dropping moment when she stands up to then-president George Washington about slavery, leaving him utterly speechless.

“Aminata embodied both a feminist and revolutionist at the same time and that is something very powerful for us to recognize,” said Ellis. “Those two concepts are nothing new and definitely did not start in the 60’s, but a lot sooner than we were taught to believe.”

A celebration of black love (1783) showcased during the series, is something Ellis finds pride in because it shows a black man and black woman loving each other shamelessly.

Ellis believes the series will create controversial opinions and statements, but “you should never shy away from controversy because it invites dialogue and feeds an intense curiosity to understand the actual facts,” she said.

Students and staff pose for a picture with Ellis on Ogden Hall's stage.
“The Book of Negroes” is an actual hand-written document that listed Black passengers leaving New York to Nova Scotia on British ships in 1783. It gave their name, age, physical descriptions, and status of being freed or slave. Aminata was commissioned to write it.

During the Q&A, Ellis was asked how she viewed the similarity and difference between this series and other shows like Scandal and Empire.

“I celebrate the success of those shows along with their creators and actors because it’s entertaining and fun, but those shows don’t do what this series does,” said Ellis. “This isn’t to say that they aren’t relevant or valuable, instead I am saying that there is space for all of it, but we have to demand it. It’s our responsibility.”

Slavery is a dark chapter, but Aminata’s triumph over adversity and not drowning in everything that she was exposed to will allow viewers to learn about an untold side of history that they can grow from in addressing today’s modern struggles.

“The Book of Negroes” premieres on BET Monday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. EST.

-Gianina Thompson

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