Obama’s Higher Ground, Netflix acquire ‘Descendant’ documentary

Roots founders Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter will co-executive produce the documentary about the descendants of the last slave ship to reach America.

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Fresh from its premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Participant’s feature documentary, Descendant, has been acquired by Netflix for worldwide distribution with Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground.

Descendant chronicles the gripping story of Alabama’s Africatown community, descendants of the slaves on the Clotilda, the last known ship to bring enslaved Africans to America. The wreckage of the ship was found in Alabama’s Mobile River in 2019.

The residents of Africatown talk about how its discovery impacts them.

The film was directed by Margaret Brown, known for films like The Order of Myths, Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt and The Great Invisible.

“I have been humbled and honored to spend four years with the residents of Africatown as they seek justice and reconciliation for what happened in 1860, and what is still happening today,” said Brown. “I am excited that through Netflix and Higher Ground’s global reach, audiences around the world will learn this powerful history.”

Michelle and Barack Obama in Chicago in 2019. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Along with directing the documentary, Brown serves as producer, along with Kyle Martin and Essie Chambers.

Netflix and Higher Ground have collaborated in the past, including on the documentary American Factory. The 2019 film that told the story of an Ohio factory run by Chinese company Fuyao won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Descendant is executive produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter through their production company Two One Five Entertainment, along with Shawn Gee and Zarah Zohlman. Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann of Participant will also executive produce the film.

“I have a personal connection to these events through my family history, but what happened in 1860 and the reverberating effects on the community of Africatown is part of our collective history,” Thompson said in a statement to theGrio. “I am hopeful that this film can be a starting point for some important conversations about the past.”

TheGrio listed Descendant as one of its five favorite films from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, calling it “breathtaking” and the story “equally awe-inspiring and alarming.” As part of the festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition, it received rave reviews and Sundance’s U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Creative Vision honor.

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