Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives (2003) Poster

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10/10
Great piece of work
inthepalemoonlight13 February 2005
This special feature from HBO a couple of years back was one of the best original programs ever done for the network. Worthy of PBS even. Taking the documented words of people who were enslaved in this country and having their comments read to us was a wonderful idea and gave viewers a more true insight for what the life of a slave was often like. It rips to pieces all of those ignorant assumptions over the years that slavery wasn't "all that bad". Only the worst kind of human being with a lack of education, common sense or human dignity could ever think such a thing in the first place. Unfortunately though there are many people out there who fit that category. It was a stroke of genius to pick a handful of well known black celebrities to put a face on the people whose words they were reading. Even better these celebrities, for the most part, were actors who had the ability to convey the emotion and cadence of the language used. It is as if they transport you safely back in time and give you a glimpse of a world that has fortunately passed but unfortunately has been forgotten. And by that I mean that Americans, of all races, simply do not want to deal with the subject much. Glad to see a TV special that tackles the subject honestly and does not sugarcoat the evils of this nation's history. Bravo to everyone involved.

With that out of the way let me also address the clown KompliKated (might as well add the extra "K") and his blatantly ignorant comments on this special. He wrote the same junk on the HBO boards and its annoying he is trying to spread his dis-information to every site he can. You can tell how disingenuous he was by stating at first that he had hoped to come away with some insight on the situation (meaning the history of slavery from those who lived it) but was instantly disappointed. Absurd. I guess he was expecting a program that was more pro-slavery with comments from former slaves who had nothing but praise for the lives they led before they were free. Must have been too many viewings of "Gone With the Wind" that made him think this. Seriously though would anyone watch a special on the Holocaust and expect the words of survivors to suggest that their experiences in death camps to have been a treat and that the Nazis weren't all that bad? Of course not.

KompliKated wrote that the special was only filmed to provoke anger and served no purpose other than to create resentment, blah, blah, blah. No, sir. The purpose was to educate and to give voice to those that suffered from such a sick institution such as slavery. It was a memorial to a chapter in this country's history. People SHOULD be angry over what happened but I don't recall the program suggesting that any black person should go attack any white person because of what occurred back in that time. He called it a racist propaganda that pours salts on open wounds. Laughable. It is racist to recite the words of former slaves in which all they did was relay their own experiences? The documentation of their suffering is propaganda? What ugly hyperbole. The problem with a lot of Americans (specifically white ones) is that they are all about remembering events in America's favor. They will never grow tired of reading and hearing about how American soldiers fought so bravely during WW2 and how the US saved France from Germany. They don't tire of bringing up (in movies, novels, history texts) how the British Empire was unfair to the American colonies which led to the American Revolution. They don't tire of the frequent mention of all the American heroes, all of the American good deeds, all of the positive moments in American history. But when someone has the audacity to point out the flaws and the bad that occurred in America, by the hands of American leaders and citizens, and all of a sudden they can't handle it. They ignore it if at all possible and ask why are the people who are bringing it up still living in the past. Hypocrites. That is why a special like this goes virtually ignored. It reminds people of America's ugly past and slaps them with cold, hard truths. Truths that go against their image of the USA and what it has stood for. That is why Americans don't have any problems not "moving on" when it comes to depicting the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. But when it comes to depicting a non-romanticized view of American slavery this country closes its eyes, cuffs its ears and hums really loudly to ignore the facts. That's a mark of insecurity.

People like KompliKated are stuck in their ways and can't be reached and frankly its pointless to even bother trying. But for those of you out there who are truly objective and are capable of sitting back and learning something then I would advise you watch this presentation. Its not about whether this program is trying to generate guilt or anger or sadness. Its purpose is simply to foster more understanding on slavery's effect on a people. And it does that splendidly I might add.
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9/10
All Americans should see this.
jane-21328 March 2005
I went to the trouble of registering at this site just so I could disagree with the previous reviewer. I think this is a fantastic document. If it causes people to look with sorrow and anger at the immoral behavior of slaveholders, well - it should.

I also disagree vehemently with people who say: "this should be seen especially by African-Americans." I think it should be seen especially by white Americans because the slave experience, now that all the eye-witnesses are long dead, is in danger of being forgotten. I am a Jew and feel fearful about the death of the last Holocaust survivors. Already there are people saying it never happened. So, too, with the horrors of slavery. But within this DVD are the voices, real and vital, of the witnesses. The WPA book series (which is available free to read on the Library of Congress site) is a priceless part of our history. Yes, I shudder with grief and rage at the behavior of the whites who participated in, condoned, or simply tolerated the treatment of blacks under slavery.

The readings are beautifully done. The actors are great and very involved in the project. The editing is exceptionally good. The music, primarily by the McIntosh County Shouters, is also great. The period photography is used to perfect effect - we can look right into those eyes and imagine what they saw. Editing is unobtrusive, that is to say that we hear the voices of the slaves undimmed by egotists on the modern end.
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10/10
A must see.....
marv30283 February 2006
Excellent watch...... Not sure how anyone could have a close minded outlook on such a powerful documentary. This was a very informative piece and breaking it down into such simple terms just negates the whole purpose of the interviews. You get a first hand account of slave life, it will not be pretty at all though there were some times of joy in their lives. Recommended if a firsthand, true account of slavery as it truly was would interest you. The celebrity list is extensive, full of prominent black actors/actresses reading excerpts of the interviews conducted so many years ago. The rawness of the production along with the photo's of actual slaves being shown whilst the narrator speaks is one of the more appealing aspects of the production.
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10/10
Powerful Docudrama
BCflyzz20 September 2005
This is very moving film, that needed to be made. It shows the inhumanity of slavery from the point of view of those who lived it. With the visual help of Ed Bell, Edward Bell, and Thomas Lennon ,the stories from former slaves that were recorded long ago are brought to life through narratives by some of today's top African-American actors and actresses.This film touches on common aspects that occurred in the everyday lives of slaves. All of the narratives were recorded all across the U.S when many of the former slaves were very old in age.All of the stories were then put into an anthology on which this film is based.This is indeed a film everyone should watch and learn from.
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10/10
Insight to American History
SalukiKnightX13 February 2006
This program has been out for a couple of years now but every time it premiered I never gave much thought to it. I mean black actors retelling the lives of former slaves? It seemed like an insult to those who lived that in that time, or so I thought. The truth is no matter how much its not talked about in mainstream media outlets or how downplayed the subject receives.

Slavery in America is American History. I thought it was simply some PR joke have black actors reading the stories of former slaves, but after watching it and seeing the pictures and hearing the sounds I understood. I tip my hats of to the actors reading and admit my error in prejudging this documentary. There were moments in which I just had chills because it was real. I never understood the meaning of Juneteeth until watching this and over all I came away learning more.

My fear now is that younger generations, who have my mindset prior to watching this, see it as something to fall asleep on not important or it's in the past. If anything, history in general teaches us that things that go forgotten often repeat themselves. I hope that for something as insidiously evil as slavery, the holocaust, or any of the current dealings with Middle Easterners or Latinos, I hope that we get over the hatred and can move on knowing our past and move forward.
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8/10
Like a slave narrative had come to life...
lesyle14 June 2003
I really enjoyed watching this documentary. More than anything, the readers were phenomenal. The readers brought those ex-slaves' voices to life. I must make it a point to see the readers' future projects :)

This documentary allowed me to truly feel the horrors of slavery: people being stripped of their identity, heritage, dignity, and self-respect. Watching this documentary didn't make me angry or hateful, although the descriptions of the violence were hard to swallow (hey, it happened. No need to deny that the US slavery was violent and emotionally damaging to the slaves and some of their descendants).

This documentary is not for the faint-hearted. Read a slave narrative if you want to know about slavery from the perspective of someone who was a slave. Reading about graphic violence may be better for some than hearing it in a documentary.
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Definitely, Worth Watching
Jalea27 July 2003
A poignant, heartfelt treatment of one of the saddest chapters in human history. Be prepared for the harsh, brutal, lurid and heart rending details. Yet, the documentary ended on a bittersweet note.

The readers did an exceptional job and clearly all involved were putting forth their best effort. Among the notable readers, watch out for Rosco Lee Browne, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, and CCH Pounder among the other readers, all well known actors. The readings included photos, footages and some singing.

I think this documentary is enlightening and worth watching.
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10/10
Moving and Touching and very informative
CherriSunset25 February 2006
This program goes through the history of slavery with an open and honest account of how brutal and heinous slavery was. The celebrities who read the slave narratives, some how transform themselves to the viewer. Almost like the former slaves are coming to life through them. The photos of the slaves and unbelievable slave quarters are heart breaking. I tried to look for smiles in the faces of the slaves and i found none. From old men and women to children, it was truly a depressing time. Who would smile in the face of such horror? You don't have to hear the readings of the narratives to understand what they were going through just look at their faces and that truly tells the story. The film is great and very informative. I highly recommend it.
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10/10
Emotional
nursegoal1213 April 2011
I just viewed part of this movie yesterday in my college American history class. I was so heartbroken to hear these true stories of slavery. I hope and pray that none of my ancestors ever owned slaves, which I highly doubt they did because they were very poor from what I know of my genealogy.

It is so hard to believe that all of this evil was only around a hundred and fifty years ago. Hard to believe how evil man can be to fellow human beings....just so hard to believe!

May they finally rest in peace with family reunited in heaven. God bless them and keep them always!

I thought this was a very good movie, very touching. I enjoyed the way the production was done. The actors seemed equally as shocked as the viewers and since the actors didn't prepare before hand, they showed true emotion in what they were portraying to the audience.

I would very much like to own this movie so I can pass it down to my children, and on to their children, etc. That way nothing like this could ever stand a chance of being repeated. This country has come a long way, but we still have more mountains to climb to correct this injustice.
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10/10
You should only watch if you actually know your history.
msbrittanydawn25 January 2007
Anyone claiming that this documentary is not educational obviously does not have a deep sense of the atrocity that was slavery. How can anyone say that this was narrow minded and exploited when those stories were complete fact? Not something made up for the sake of making a certain people look bad. If you are African American, you should feel a sense to take a deeper pride in the rights you have today. And if you are White, then you should not feel badly for the past, but work for the future. We have come a long way since the narratives were first documented, but surely we have a very long way to go.

There is a deep sense of pain in these narratives, and yes, some black people did resent white people. Wouldn't you if you'd been whipped, had no rights, and watched your family sold out from under you time and time again? I felt that this was a fine piece of work, and I wish it had been longer. It's just a shame that it only ever airs in February.
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great content, annoying distractions
therica4 May 2010
I loved seeing the actual facts and photos in this movie, and hearing the narratives read. It's an important part of American history that was preserved for us by the researchers back around 1930.

What annoys me is the production. There is far too much extra baggage, scenes showing the actors discussing and prepping for their readings. In at least one early reading, the actress seemed to know nothing about the person or the life of the person who they were just about to portray. That lack of preparation by the actors, plus the footage showing this, really detracted from the flow of the production. It also made their actual portrayals come across as less true and heart-felt, and merely some actor playing some role that they hadn't even researched adequately beforehand.

I would love to see this again in an edited version which removed all of the behind the scene prepping which seemed to glorify the actors to the detraction of the movie's intent, which is the focus on these painful and yet enlightening biographical treasures of American history.

But aside from going to Library of Congress for weeks in order to read the original narratives and view the accompanying photos, this is definitely a great opportunity to learn about slavery days from first-hand witnesses.
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10/10
Amazingly well done.
MartinHafer10 March 2012
During the Depression, one of the government work programs involved the Library of Congress recording narratives of various black Americans who had been slaves. Interestingly, their accounts were recorded in their exact words--with the vernacular of the day. Some today might blanch at this due to the very politically incorrect language but it helped to make the stories seem more real and complete.

In this HBO documentary, modern black actors and actresses read many of these accounts. Their readings were very realistic and made for some very compelling moments. Much of the time they were acting out the accounts, you see various photos of the day as well as video recreated for this film. The overall effect is extraordinary--and very moving. In particular, the discussion of the sexual assaults on slave women and beatings are hard to hear but very important to understanding the day. Also, you might be surprised by a few of the narratives that are positive in their depiction of the white masters or that showed great pride in how hard they worked as slaves. I am glad such stories were included so as to provide a full spectrum of the slave experiences and attitudes.

The bottom line is that this is a great piece of history--once that you can't forget--nor should you. It's also a nice chance to see and hear from several exceptional actors in their later years who have since died--such as the glorious voices of Roscoe Lee Browne and Ossie Davis.
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8/10
Often powerful and moving documentary
runamokprods8 March 2012
Various wonderful actors, from Samuel Jackson to Ruby Dee read the actual transcripts of former slaves' memories of their experiences, as recorded by the Library of Congress in the 1930s.

Certainly hearing people's own experiences in their own words bring the surreal horrors of slavery to life in a way that no dramatization can.

My only complaint, as with several other HBO documentaries, is that at 75 minutes this actually feels a little too short, a little raced through. I would have preferred to hear more of these people's journeys. As it is, sometime the emotion is just building when we switch to another reader and another story.

Also, inter-cutting somewhat forced feeling 'backstage banter' as the actors prepare for, or finish their readings feels a bit distracting from the more powerful simple, straightforward readings. But these are minor flaws in an affecting, effective documentary and educational tool.
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6/10
A nice effort.
magellan33316 March 2006
There was nothing very informative or revealing in this documentary. It was a nice effort undertaken by black stars to read aloud slave narratives in the original dialect they were recorded in. I was hoping for more day-to-day information about the slave life, but instead isolated events and memories of masters and mistresses are reflected on, with some exceptions. If you all ready know the history of slavery and this sad time, you will mostly be entertained by this well crafted documentary. You won't learn anything new. Several times, the images of the volumes containing all the slave narratives obtained in the 1930s were shown. I can't help but wonder what other stories there are that were not included in this documentary. Worth a look for the entertainment purposes, but little offered in the way of education.
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