In the latest edition of Variety Doc Dreams presented by National Geographic, documentary filmmaker Margaret Brown talked about the process and inspiration that led to “Descendant,”…
In the latest edition of Variety Doc Dreams presented by National Geographic, documentary filmmaker Margaret Brown talked about the process and inspiration that led to “Descendant,” the Netflix documentary that chronicles the current-day legacy of the last United States slave ship, Clotilda, which was discovered in 2019.
“I don’t even know how many times I read ‘Barracoon,’ it was kind of the guiding force of the movie in a certain way,” Brown said of the Zora Neale Hurston novel that helped inspire the documentary. “[Probably] a 100 [times], I have no idea. That would be a low ball.”
Brown also talked about the strong sensory details that came to mind when the documentary crew stepped into Africatown, a historic community close to Mobile, Alabama that is surrounded by a paper plant and other heavy industry, and discussed her desire to translate some of its smells — such as asphalt and pollution — onto film.
“If environmental racism has a smell, that’s what Africatown smells like,” Brown said. “I knew all along I wanted to somehow translate this smell into a film… you feel the injustice just kind of standing there.”
In chronicling the current lives of descendants from that Clotilda, Brown touched on the potential danger that some of them felt in being spotlighted in the documentary, with fears of losing employment among them.
“When the film came out, a bunch of school teachers started sending us pictures of them showing the film in their classrooms, sort of as an act of resistance,” Brown said. “Some of the people in the film were worried that they would get fired because of that — showing a film about history to school children. I don’t want to use the crazy because this is the moment we’re in, but isn’t that sad?”
Watch the full video above.