With national broadcast beginning tomorrow, there are more reviews and articles about Traces of the Trade each day.

Television critic Joanne Ostrow, of the Denver Post, has a review being carried by newspapers across the country. Ostrow writes that this is “a stunning documentary … eye-opening and important,” which “ought to spark conversations on race” for at least as long as the nine years it took to make.

Newsblaze logoThis morning, Newsblaze, which last week found the film “a remarkable documentary … brave and sobering … a labor of love,” runs another review which rates the film as “Excellent (4 stars).” The review, by Kam Williams, finds the documentary “an eye-opening caravan undertaken by some refreshingly honest Caucasians willing to take an unblinking look at their slave legacy and the devastation left in its wake.” The review further states that Traces of the Trade is “an emotional journey … a unique look at slavery from the perspective of Northern white beneficiaries.”

Lauren Wissot, the award-winning director and film critic, offers her assessment of the film, which she terms “overwhelming … powerful … poignant.” “The ten DeWolf descendants,” she writes, “are a thoughtful, forthcoming, from the heart group—willing to doubt, to not have answers, to admit both fear and internalized racism.” Of Katrina’s deeply personal, idiosyncratic approach to the film, Wissot observes that “there’s something sweet and humble in this, in Browne’s constant commentary describing how unsure and awkward she feels.”

Perhaps most satisfying, Wissot offers this observation:

In fact there is limitless drama (the stories in Traces of the Trade could easily fill a PBS miniseries) with everyone involved in a perpetual soul-search—this is what makes cinema (and life) so interesting.

Philadelphia Daily NewsThe Philadelphia Daily News carries a review this morning by their television critic, Ellen Gray, including an interview with Katrina Browne. Gray takes the reader through several of Katrina’s arguments for making a deeply personal film about race, with only white participants, and concludes that “the timing’s perfect” for a documentary of this nature. She also acknowledges, however, that the “very personal” nature of Katrina’s film, as well as its occasionally “cringe-worthy moments” and debates about apologies and reparations “may not be everyone’s idea of an answer” to the country’s problems with race.

Courtesy of Critical Women on Film, we have a review from the June 12 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle, which refers to the “profound and universal power” that Katrina was aiming for in using the cinematic art form, and Aristotle’s theory of drama and catharsis, to tell the story of our ancestors and their legacy. The review previews two films which are showing together at Syracuse’s Community Folk Art Center, in commemoration of the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade. The other documentary, The Film Class, follows an Israeli filmmaker who leads five “Black Bedouin” women on a pilgrimage into the Negev Desert, in search of their ancestors, Africans who were taken east by Arab slave traders. The reviewer concludes that the double showing is an “inspired” way to highlight both films, as well as the parallels between them.

Finally, a quick nod to all of the bloggers who are responding with such strong interest to the coverage on Bill Moyers’ Journal, the screenings at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at Lincoln Center, and the upcoming national broadcast on PBS. I suspect they’re doing more than anyone else to spread the word and to promote interest among those looking for a novel approach to dialogue about race.

6 Responses to “This morning’s reviews”

  1. Inheriting the Trade says:

    […] please note my cousin James DeWolf Perry’s blog posting–at Impertinent Questions–this morning about all the positive reviews Traces of the Trade is receiving as well as a nod […]

  2. Rachel Cohen says:

    Please–chinless white people indulging in group therapy on video. While the topic might be important, the film is amateur hour. The best scene is at the dinner table, where Harvard and Princeton grads try to justify their privileged lives.

    Don’t miss the dropped raw chicken scene. Were tax dollars spent on this piece of self-indulgence?

  3. James says:

    Rachel, I appreciate your critique of the film as a film. I wasn’t much for the “group therapy” aspect of the journey, either, as any of my relatives who were with me during filming can readily attest.

    However, you should probably bear in mind that many reviewers have been impressed with how the film was made. I suspect that how well it works depends greatly on the viewer’s temperament, approach to race, and taste in films, but clearly Katrina’s approach to the subject matter strikes a chord with many people.

    (In case you didn’t realize, I’m the one who made the comment in the film about the group discussion amounting to “self-indulgence,” so I appreciate your use of that term here.)

  4. mike says:

    the consequences of slavery has a continuing legacy that burns through the souls of its victims today. I know that today the way we see each other as white and black people and how we interact is miserable. before we self destruct, some attempt must be made at honesty and reconciliation so that at least we can all own up to the history of our deeds. I really don’t want any apology as a black man from whites. I won’t be critical about what I think and feel when white people talk about how they feel about slavery. It was a good show and I appreciate pbs for airing it.

  5. Julie Fanselow says:


    Thanks to your family for undertaking this journey. I work for Everyday Democracy (formerly the Study Circles Resource Center) which – since the early 1990s – has been helping communities hold large-scale, inclusive, action-oriented discussions on topics including race.

    I don’t see your family’s conversations as self-indulgent so much as a necessary means of talking through what happened 200 years ago.

    A colleague of mine defines recognition of white privilege like this: You’re sitting in a dark room and someone comes in and throws on a bright light. It really hurts at first, but after a while, you appreciate the light.

    As an adoptee with little knowledge of my family history, it’d be convenient for me to say, “Not my problem … I have no idea whether my ancestors had any role in this.” But as a white person who was born in the United States, I know it IS my problem, because – even as a non-elite, middle-class white person – I know I’ve benefitted from the systems put in place during the slavery era. “Traces of the Trade” made me all the more committed to being an ally to African Americans in the quest for justice and equity.

    Thanks for your family’s willingness to put yourselves in the bright light, on national television, no less. I am sure the film is going to help advance the national (and local!) discussions on race that we all know we need to have.

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