Tue 24 Jun, 2008
Tags: Abolition, Bicentennial, Broadcast, Media coverage, P.O.V., PBS, Slave trade, Television
I’ve delayed posting about this morning’s press coverage of Traces of the Trade, as we prepare for the start of national broadcast this evening on PBS.
However, several members of the Traces family have asked me for the latest update, so I hope everyone else will bear with me—or simply move along—as I review what the press is saying about the documentary this morning.
I’ll start with an article in this morning’s Boston Globe by Vanessa Jones, about the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade. Vanessa and I had spoken a couple of weeks ago, about the reasons for the nation’s lack of awareness about the bicentennial, and she has done an excellent job of reporting on those who have been involved in commemorating the occasion, as well as interviewing scholars who can address the reasons for this historical amnesia.
The article, “Neglected: Some Say New Englanders are Ignoring the Commemoration of Slavery’s End,” discusses the premiere of Traces on PBS, and mentions that the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities is planning a series of events around the state using the film as a starting point for discussion.
Vanessa also provides a particularly insightful quotation from Professor James Campbell of Brown University. He and I appeared together, earlier this month, on a panel on slavery in Newport, and he has been central to Brown’s investigations into its own connections with slavery:
People are terrified of being associated with slavery, in part because most Americans have no idea of just how thorough-going and pervasive the institution was in our society.
It’s not the case of a few families, a few bad men, a few institutions. This is a trade. This is an institution which shaped every aspect of American society, culture, and economy for hundreds of years.
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall devotes her column this morning to Traces of the Trade and the nation’s enduring legacy of slavery. She calls the film “illuminating,” and notes that Katrina Browne ask people merely “to think, talk and, perhaps, even acknowledge.” “White Americans,” she quotes Katrina as saying, “see apologizing for slavery as something they didn’t do. You don’t have to say you’re personally responsible. But you can acknowledge and show some human compassion.”
At The Black World Today, Eugene Holley, Jr. reviews the documentary, finding that it has a “bitter edge to it,” and that “if you’re black, you’ll probably have no patience for the privileged pangs of guilt exhibited by the DeWolf clan” early in the film. (I can verify that this is true of many black viewers, although it isn’t true of many others.) He notes, though, that “you almost have sympathy for these … well-meaning Euro-Americans who now choose to deal with issues black people have had to deal with since they came to these shores.” He concludes that while, “if anyone is looking for a happy ending, they won’t find it here,” they will find people who display “the courageousness needed to move us forward.”
The Honolulu Advertiser calls Traces a “must-see” and a “strong and emotional start” to P.O.V.‘s 21st season on PBS.
The Hartford Courant calls the documentary “powerful” and “essential viewing,” praising the family in the film for “thinking deeply about what these deep transgressions mean today, to them and us.”
Ray Ellis at Blogcritics.org argues that Traces “drips of white guilt” but nevertheless “forces us to look at our sometimes unsavory past” to uncover “wounds in our history that need to be healed.” He concludes by telling the reader to “make it a point to view it.”
Finally, the Episcopal Church, which has been a partner with us for several years in promoting the film, has good coverage of the upcoming national broadcast in Episcopal Life Online, which has in turn inspired several Episcopalian and other explicitly religious bloggers to post about the film.
Update: You can now listen online to an interview with Katrina Browne on the Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC in New York.