Team behind Sundance doc ‘Descendant’ on the Clotilda, diving into Black history and more

Director Margaret Brown and historical expert Dr. Kern Jackson break down 'Descendant', which was recently acquired by Netflix

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The latest episode of theGrio‘s Acting Up podcast breaks down Descendant, a breakout documentary from this year’s Sundance Film Festival that was recently acquired by Netflix.

Netflix acquired Descendant just a few weeks ago with worldwide distribution through Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, theGrio previously reported. Directed by Margaret Brown, Descendant follows the literal descendants of the Clotilda, which was the last slave ship to arrive in the United States.

The film is produced by Two One Five Entertainment, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter‘s production company, as Questlove himself discovered his own personal connection to the project through his family’s history. Brown sat down with theGrio‘s Cortney Wills during the episode and opened up about the inspiration behind the film.

Descendant thegrio.com
Descendant (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Brown shared that the process for the project actually began 15 years ago, when she was making her other film The Order of Myths, based on segregated Mardi Gras in Mobile. After discovering two Mardi Gras queens were connected via the Clotilda, Dr. Kern Jackson, who worked on the film as an historical advisor, had conversations with Brown all about the Clotilda and its history, long before it was officially discovered. “It was a very auspicious beginning,” she added.

She also opened up about being a white director, creating a film on Black history. Speaking to the privilege she has gotten her to this position, she explained, “I mean, the answer is clear that like, I have this opportunity…but there’s another part of it, which is just like white privilege.”

She added, “It was a lot of internal struggle. But again, like the movie’s not about me and this is really important to me. It’s my hometown. It’s something that I do think white people have to reckon with. And so if I can be a part of that, then great, you know, I’m going to be part of that conversation.”

Jackson, who also served as historical consultant on Descendant, also appeared on Acting Up. Speaking to the power of the documentary and this story seeing light, Jackson shared, “I mean, so many things, not the least of which is sort of, the arrogance of power. You know, like the folks in Africa Town say throughout the whole thing, “We knew where it was!” Ben Raines did not discover this ship, people in Africa Town already knew where it was and had been functioning with the power of that knowledge.”

For more on Descendant, the work gone into the documentary and more, you can listen to the full episode of Acting Up now.

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