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Documentary Film Analysis Worksheet Essay

You will find the list of films you can choose from in the Assignment tab. Go to the list and pick your film. You must view the entire film. If you can’t access films because of deployment, geographic location, or other reasons, please let your instructor know so they can give you an alternate assignment. Please type you answers into this sheet. You must submit the worksheet by uploading the worksheet as a Word document You must answer in complete sentences, using a short answer/paragraph format. Please do not answer in one or two sentences be specific. 2 paragraph minimum (except for #1)

1. What is the title of the film you picked?

I chose the film, “Slavery and the Making of America.”

2. Why did you pick this film over the others offered?

I chose this film documentary over the others because I have always wanted to learn more about slavery and how it shaped and effected America. Often we are just told what we read in books or stories that have been passed down about what really went on in this country. Slavery is a big subject and one of if not the biggest tragedies in the history of this country. I wanted to watch this documentary to uncover more truth and facts about the shape of this country during that time. I also liked the descriptions that are specified about the video and what it talks about and will cover. It states that the four part documentary will cover the beginning of slavery from the British colonies which then migrates down south to the north and how it ends. I have always been intrigued by the history of slavery and how it came about and how it was for Africans and African Americans during that time.

3. What is/are the central message(s) of this documentary/fictional film? Be specific. Use examples from the film to support your choice.

There are many central messages regarding this documentary. The main messages conveyed in this documentary were resistance amongst the slaves, struggle to maintain dignity, their life styles and culture, their status as workers, knowing their value as a slave, the change of racism, slaves were underestimated about their knowledge and understanding, family was essential and helped them survive and powerful political figures along with American beliefs were major hypocrites. In 1624 the first eleven Africans known as the Atlantic Creole’s were brought via ships by the Dutch West India Company to New Amsterdam (New York today), at this time there were two kinds of workers; slaves and indentured workers(white and black laborers who served for a servant amount of years to get money and become free). Their statuses were confusing and complex however, they were both treated equal and would often retreat to taverns to bond and talk about their masters.

The Atlantic Creole’s made the system work for them. They knew how to bargain with their masters to get what they needed and still maintain a fair working lifestyle. The turn of fair treatment towards both races changed in 1640 when three men (two white and one black) decided to flee from their master. They were caught two days later. In court the two whites were to serve a few more years as indentured workers while the black man was sentenced to life as an indentured worker. Slaves maintained their dignity by using the bible, their culture as Africans and family value to get them through. When times got hard they prayed and came together as a community. The treatment of slaves was inhumane, they were beaten, and tortured (branded, men castrated, ears cut off or severed, women raped and exploited) if they were misbehaving.

Eventually slaves were beginning to be resistant. They would harm cattle, run away, commit suicide and sometimes revolt towards their masters to receive better treatment. President Thomas Jefferson was considered to be a huge hypocrite along with political powers in America. They wrote documents and petitions stating that all men were created equal. Jefferson claimed he was not big about slavery yet, he owned over 250 slaves and did not free a single one even as President. Slaves were treated like animals and property rather than human beings (3/5th constitution stated that slaves were only 3/5th human and therefore were to be treated as such.)

4. Consider the effectiveness of the film for this history class. What are its strengths and weaknesses of this film in documenting history?

This film is strong and very effective with many strengths. It gives a detailed account of slavery and the lives of significant people who helped to abolish slavery. It talks about David Walker and his appeal and what the Appeal did for all blacks and whites fighting for the cause. Later it talks about Maria Stewart (Walker’s prodigy) and how she was the first black women to speak to a mixed audience those of men and women and how the lawsuit she won later would bring about the Emancipation. Other significant role players were Harriet Jacobs who was the first women to write a slave narrative.

Her life consisted in the attempts to be free of her master who wanted her for sexual purposes. She fell in love with another white man and produced two children for him. In order for her children to be free she fled to her grandmother’s home who was free and she lived in an enclosed space for the next seven years. Although, her children were free it would be a few more years before she would ever see them again. The only weakness to this documentary I found was that it skipped times periods and went back and forth. It said very little about the Declaration of Independence and what it meant to African Americans. During this time it also does not mention the impact that the Quakers had on blacks. It just mentions that they were there and what they fought for.2

5. How do you think the filmmakers want the audience to respond? Is there a social justice message? If so, what is it?

I would say filmmakers would want the audience to have a better appreciation for blacks and what they went through and those that helped fight for racism and anti-slavery movements. I think initially anyone who watches this film would first be ashamed to call the U.S their country but, then after a while realizing that was the country’s way of living and way of life at the time. To think that people were treated like animals and had no rights is an injustice and definitely a contradiction to the American beliefs. The audience may want to re-read the Declaration of Independence and see if its principals are practiced to this day. There is definitely a social justice message. In the documentary it talks about the first eleven slaves from Africa known as the Atlantic Creole.

As time passes they negotiate with their masters to get land, get paid for their labor and even have their children become free after a certain amount of time. The slaves knew their worth and at the time they were able to negotiate because there were no harsh laws at this time. A couple of the men even sued their masters and won for loss of wages. Other examples include resistance and revolts. A big indicator was the Walker Appeal. In the Appeal Walker motivates black slaves to stand up for themselves and roles out argument over the history of slavery. He criticizes Thomas Jefferson and America’s political party for being a contradiction stating they want all men to be treated equally and free except many of them stilled owned slaves and were not freeing them.

6. Did the documentary leave you with any unanswered questions? If so, what were they?

The documentary was very informative and very detailed oriented. I would have like to know more about Thomas Jefferson and President Washington. The documentary does not cover President Washington’s role in slavery or how he felt about it and what actions he took. Of course he owned slaves but, did he feel the same as Jefferson? What was he doing at this time for the country in regards to slavery? I also wanted to know what Thomas Jefferson’s role was after the Declaration of Independence took effect. He owned over 250 slaves. I wonder what he was like toward his slaves and how he treated them. If he was against slavery then why did he not free his slaves or why did he wait so long? Why did he not play a bigger role in helping the slaves?

7. How did this film change any misconceptions or stereotypes you had about the subject matter? If so, what were they?

Since, I already knew basic facts about slavery I did not have any stereotypes. I will say that I had lack of knowledge with the real life situations that many individuals experienced. For example, the film states the punishments for any slave that runs away. The first punishment they were whipped. The second punishment they were branded with an R on their right cheek. The third punishment their ear was severed and another R on the left cheek for runaway, and the fourth punishment males were castrated. I had misconceptions about the Presidents. I used to respect the Presidents Jefferson and Lincoln. History says they are some of our founding fathers. To me they were prejudice cowards who had no intention of freeing slaves although, they say they did not believe in slavery. America builds these prominent figures up as if they are heroes. Sure, they developed great causes and did great things (Jefferson with the Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation) but again this did nothing for slaves.

8. What did you enjoy most about the film? Dislike the most? Be specific.

I like that the film was very detailed in the lives of those people who made a difference. The film also stresses how important slavery was and how blacks were portrayed and treated. I was constantly being fed about facts that I definitely did not learn in school history books. Significant unknown people such as a slave called Titus who was very skilled and a smart slave and owned by a short tempered Quaker who would not release him although, a lot of Quakers were freeing their slaves. Titus eventually runs away and comes back years later as a sophisticated colonel of a small army of whites and blacks to fight in various wars and help free his people. Another unknown significant slave was Emanuel Dregas. He was owned by Captain Pot and later Pot owned his family. Once Pot became stricken by poverty he sold Dregas’ family. After Captain Pot died, Dregas later became free but, his family remained enslaved and for the rest of his life he fought to get them freedom. I can honestly there was nothing that I did not like about the film.

9. What is the most important thing you learned from watching the film?

The most important thing I learned about this film was the value of African Americans verses slavery and how the first Africans were able to be more free with their decisions and able to negotiate their wages. Again the first eleven Africans known as the Atlantic Creole in 1624 came by way of ship purchased by the Dutch West Indian Company. As they built the Dutch Colony in New Amsterdam (New York today) there were no laws about slavery and they had no structure. They were just required to work hard for their masters. These slaves began to recognize their worth and realized they were not being paid their value. A few of them sued their slave owners for higher wages. They also began to negotiate with their masters. They made the system work for them.

The masters wanted to appease them so that they would continue to work. In turn masters gave their slaves half freedom. This meant men who married could live with their wives on the free Negro land. They could grow their own crops, cattle and they could farm there. Slaves were very valuable. The more slaves that were owned the more land the slave owner received. For example, one slave equaled five acres of land. Cotton was the biggest product since tobacco and was in high demand throughout the world specifically Europe. Thousands of slaves were requested and then shipped from West Africa to complete these slave picking tasks. It was a nonstop twenty-four seven job. Slaves worked from sunrise till sundown. If it was a full moon they worked through the night as well.

10. Why is this film important to understanding contemporary African American History?

This film is important to understanding contemporary African American History, because of the details it covers of slavery, the people and a nation it effected and how these people survived such a harsh, cruel and demanding life style. Africans and African Americans struggled yet their religious beliefs, love for family and will to live and eventually fighting back got them through. This is seen in the attempted Nat Turner revolt, Walker Appeal pamphlet, the slave narrative by Harriet Jacobs and Maria Stewart. Each of these individuals fought for a cause that they did not see or experience in their lifetime but, knew that it would come in the following generations. These individuals had guts and wanted to tell the truth. David Walker exploits American beliefs in his Appeal when he talks President Thomas Jefferson being a hypocrite and how he wants all men to be created equally yet he owns slaves and would not free them.

America was turned upside down due to the attitude of slavery. The nation was becoming a separate society. It was the North and West vs the South. While the North and West had abolished slavery the South was nowhere near that or wanted anything to do with it. Economic power became political power. Those that had prospered or came from money were running for the senate, government and even for presidency. Based upon this alone Africans, African Americans and various indentured workers built this country and assisted the country in making it an economic powerhouse.

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