Netflix just released the trailer to their upcoming documentary Descendant, which will be released on the platform and in select theaters on Oct. 21.
The documentary follows 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.”
Margaret Brown directed the documentary which made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January. There it won the U.S. special jury award for creative vision. Shortly thereafter, Netflix acquired worldwide rights to the film, with Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground signing on to present the feature alongside the streamer and Participant.
“When we left the White House, Michelle and I talked about the things we wanted to do post-presidency,” Barack Obama said before screening the documentary at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival.
We’ve got a lot of stuff going on, but one of the things that we learned both when we were campaigning for office and taking office was the importance of stories and who tells stories and what stories are valid and what stories are discounted … We believe that everybody’s stories matter. Everybody’s got a sacred story that motivates us, moves us. It’s not just a matter of nostalgia, it powers us into the present and the future.”
When we screened this… we looked at it and immediately thought, ‘This is why we’re doing Higher Ground.’ Because what we know about our history as Black people, we don’t talk about nothing. We can’t get anything out of our elders, can we? We don’t know anything,” Michelle Obama added. “We have to tell our stories to our younger folks. We have to be the ones, we cannot follow that tradition of keeping our pain silent, because what this film shows us is our stories are the power that makes us seen.”
“Descendant” is produced by Kyle Martin, Essie Chambers and Brown, all of whom were present at the MVAAFF screening and participated in a Q&A with Clotilda descendants and Africatown residents Joycelyn Davis and Veda Tunstall, both subjects in the documentary. 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.