Directed by Margaret Brown, the documentary focuses on members of Africatown, a small community in Alabama, as they share their personal stories and community history as descendants of the Clotilda, the last known ship illegally carrying enslaved Africans to the United States.
The ship arrived in America 40 years after African slave trading became a capital offense. It was promptly burned and its existence denied, but now, as the documentary’s logline explains, “after a century shrouded in secrecy and speculation, descendants of the Clotilda’s survivors are reclaiming their story.”
“It’s slowly been erased, and as far as I can remember, it’s never been in history books,” one subject says early in the teaser, which chronicles the period after the buried history of the Clotilda had been quite literally unearthed when remains of the ship were discovered.
The film follows the community members as they seek justice and healing, because as another subject puts it, “I don’t want the momentum of the story to just be focused on the ship. It’s not all about that ship.”
Yet another descendant drives home the point, adding: “I don’t want our history to be taken the same way our people were taken.”
Netflix acquired worldwide rights to the film in January following its acclaimed debut at Sundance, with Higher Ground, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, signing on to present the Participant feature alongside the streamer. “Descendant” will screen as an official selection at the 60th New York Film Festival on Oct. 1, the latest stop on the film’s festival run before it launches on Netflix and in select theaters on Oct. 21.
In August, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival to introduce the doc, which had been selected as the opening night presentation. The film premiered in the U.S. documentary competition at Sundance, where it won the U.S. documentary special jury award for creative vision.
“Descendant,” a Higher Ground and Night Tide production, in association with Two One Five Entertainment, is produced by Kyle Martin, Essie Chambers and Brown. Executive producers are Participant’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann; Kate Hurwitz of Cinetic Media; Two One Five Entertainment’s Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Shawn Gee and Zarah Zohlman.
Watch the full trailer below.