Slavery Center presents first film of spring series

February 11, 2013

By Will Fesperman
Staff Writer

The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice kicked off its spring event series­ — “Ships of Bondage, Freedom and the Knowledges of the Enslaved” — Wednesday with a screening of the documentary “Traces of the Trade.”

In addition to a film screening every Wednesday in February, the center will host a lecture, a musical performance, an exhibit, a symposium and teach-ins on the experiences of slaves.

“Traces of the Trade” depicts 10 living descendants of the DeWolf family, members of Bristol’s wealthy elite, as they come to terms with their family’s lucrative involvement in the slave trade. The 10 relatives travel to Bristol, R.I., Ghana and Cuba, three hubs of the triangular trade which included sugar, rum and slaves.

The film’s connection to Rhode Island history made it especially relevant.

“I think it’s really important that it was shown in Providence,” said Josette Souza ’14, one of 36 people who attended. “I’d like to know what people in Providence and Bristol would have to say about it.”

Anani Dzidzienyo, associate professor of Africana studies, led a discussion after the film. As a native Ghanaian, Dzidzienyo said he “wanted something more from a Ghanaian perspective.” In particular, he said he wished the film makers had asked Ghanaians how they felt about the complicity of African kings in the slave trade.

He added that the DeWolf descendants’ racial privilege was not “dealt with in a satisfying way.”

Wednesday’s film was the first screening in the Ships of Bondage and Rebellion Film Festival. The series will show three more films this month and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” in April.

The film screenings and related lectures, teach-ins and symposium are the first events of the recently formed center, which was created last summer as a result of the University’s 2006 report on Brown’s involvement in the slave trade.

Anthony Bogues, director of the center and professor of Africana studies, said he hopes the event series will introduce the center to students and community members. “Given the 5-year gap between the … recommendations and the 2012 creation, we needed to find a way to reconnect with the community,” he said.

The center’s student advisory committee, which includes both undergraduate and graduate students, planned the upcoming teach-ins to “reintroduce the report to campus,” said Michael Becker ’13, a committee member. Souza, also a member of the committee, said the teach-ins will bring together community members, students and faculty members to discuss the report, contemporary forms of slavery and the prison system.