20 Best Slave Movies of All Time That Shows Us The Dark History
Slavery is possibly the most heinous stain on humanity’s history. Even when stated in retrospect, the macabre evil elicits the most repulsive reactions from humans. The globe advanced in a direction that renounced the ironic comforts of slavery thanks to the tireless work and endeavors of the great Abraham Lincoln. Hollywood has been outspoken and brutal in its condemnation of the practice. To entirely remove slavery, a number of significant social initiatives and awareness programs have been launched.
Through soul-moving slavery films, filmmakers have expressed their outrage and disgust about the subject, as well as America’s pioneering role in the concept’s founding. Evocative feelings are evoked by emotive film pieces, which we all deal with at some point in our lives. So, here is a list of the best slavery films ever made, which may or may not crush your heart. You might be able to discover a few of these good slavery movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime if you’re lucky.
Table Of Content
- 1 12 Years A Slave (2013)
- 2 13th (2016)
- 3 Amazing Grace (2006)
- 4 Amistad (1997)
- 5 Belle (2013)
- 6 Ben-Hur (1959)
- 7 Django Unchained (2012)
- 8 Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
- 9 Free State of Jones (2016)
- 10 Glory (1989)
- 11 Gone With the Wind (1939)
- 12 I Am Slave (2010)
- 13 In Dubious Battle (2016)
- 14 Lincoln (2012)
- 15 Roots (1977)
- 16 Sankofa (1993)
- 17 Tamango (1958)
- 18 The Birth of A Nation (2016)
- 19 The Pianist (2002)
- 20 Unbroken (2014)
12 Years A Slave (2013)
The undisputed number one on the list is Steve McQueen’s historical epic ’12 Years A Slave,’ which was also the deserving winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film’s premise is based on Solomon Northup’s slave-memoirs, and it follows his eviscerating trip into the jaws of the morbid disease, despite the fact that he is a free man. Two men acting as circus hires seduce the skilled musician into a passionate snare. Solomon wanders from pone plantation field to pone plantation field, dealing with their insane owners’ brutal whims and fancies. The triumphant tale of the struggle for freedom and eventual liberty is one of boundless inspiration. For you, a fantastic watch (see what I did there?).
Many films have been made about slavery in the modern world in various forms, but ’13th’ is the film for you if you want a true understanding of the history of slavery and its continued use in many forms in the current world.
’13th,’ named after the famous “Thirteenth Amendment” of the American constitution that legalized slavery, is a documentary film that depicts the origins of slavery and how it has evolved into various virtual and modern forms over time, leading to racial discrimination, prejudice, crimes based on religious and caste differences, and societal divisions.
From the perspectives and expertise of many academicians and historians, the video documents the prevalence of slavery and its reciprocation in American culture. The film, which has a 96 percent aggregate on Rotten Tomatoes and has won several honors, is regarded as one of the best and most thorough documentaries of recent years. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
Amazing Grace (2006)
Abe Lincoln is the guy whose name has been linked to the abolition of slavery in the United States throughout history. However, little is known about William Wilberforce’s struggle and political fight to bring a comparable reform to Britain’s more sophisticated, traditional, and harsher culture until he had a legislative law passed in the British parliament. The narrative of the same man and his 20-year campaign against Britain’s House of Commons to abolish slavery and the slave trade in England and her colonies is told in ‘Amazing Grace.’
Wilberforce is played by Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four), with Benedict Cumberbatch, Albert Finney, Michael Gambon, and Toby Jones rounding out the ensemble cast. ‘Amazing Grace’ was a box office flop that received mixed reviews from reviewers due to its lack of original storytelling and unimpressive acting. As a result, the film has languished in obscurity in recent years. However, it is fair to state that the tale, as well as the overall presentation and actor performances, contribute significantly to the genre, making it worthwhile to see.
You should expect a nice sensation within whenever Steven Spielberg takes to the camera. His sympathetic method of narrating stories, as well as its elan simplicity, distinguishes him as a superb raconteur. The historical drama ‘Amistad’ is based on the true narrative of the events onboard the slave ship La Amistad in 1839. The traveling enslaved men of the Mende tribe took command of the ship and abducted their original captors, setting sail for freedom. Their goals were short-lived, and the US troops quickly subdued them. The Supreme Court ruled on the case. The film is an amazing experience that you will remember for a long time.
‘Belle’ is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a legitimate African-British woman who, although being raised in an aristocratic family, is denied her free standing in British society. According to cinema theorists, “Belle” is a film about the inadequacies of British society, which was defined at the time by race, color, and slavery. The film’s stories transport us to a time when the slave trade in Britain was at its height. The focus of ‘Belle’ is not on the violence associated with slavery, but rather on racial prejudice and bigotry, which was instilled in the English mindset by the Empire’s actions of slavery and slave trade against Spanish and African inhabitants.
‘Belle,’ on the other hand, reminds viewers of the Song Massacre, in which the crews of slave ships serving the Empire’s interests massacred over a hundred slaves. This scene in the film shows the reality about British upper-class society that remained silent while innocent men suffered as a result of their racial indifference. The film has received widespread praise, particularly from African-American Film Critics Association critics. Despite certain historical mistakes, it is nonetheless regarded as one of the best films ever made on the subject of slavery.
‘Ben-Hur,’ the epic masterpiece, is one of the most successful films of all time and is almost certain to appear on every other list but this one. The film largely follows Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish-born merchant, and his connection with his family, as well as his problems with his adopted brother, Messala. Ben-Hur is forced to spend a life as a galley slave after being wrongly deported by his own brother, a Roman officer. While the majority of the film focuses on Ben-struggles Hur’s to reclaim his innocence and rebuild his life and family, a sensitive section of the film depicts the lives of Jewish slaves tortured to the galleys by Roman tribunes and soldiers. Ben-Hur received a lot of critical praise for its portrayal of the Roman use of galley slaves, which was a significant deal in the 1950s due to the scarcity of information about galley slaves. At the time of the release, the only account of galley slaves was contained in centuries-old texts that had been translated (and possibly modified) over time.
‘Ben-Hur,’ on the other hand, perfectly depicted that period of history, which became an important part of the whole film, and offered lead actor Charlton Heston enough screen time to make his mark. These moments were synonymous with ‘Ben-Hur,’ leading to the film’s 11 Academy Award nominations, a record it still retains and shares with ‘Titanic’ (1997) and ‘LOTR: The Return of the King’ (2003).
Django Unchained (2012)
This isn’t your typical drama in which Black folks suffer in silence and wait for the battle to end. Sir, no. This is the one when they use a.22 magnum shotgun to blow their apparent masters’ heads off. The action-packed movie from Quentin Tarantino is a gory-fest of the human body reduced to stinky and nasty chunks of meat. The story follows Django, who is set free by Dr. Schultz, a humble and liberal German dentist. Django’s life takes on a new direction and purpose after accepting the latter’s offer to join him in his campaign to kill bad white men: to reconnect with Broomhilda. They’ll have to cope with a paranoid plantation owner who takes a shine to Django after they find her. Tarantino mesmerizes once more, this time without overdramatizing and knitting the story’s fabrics of style with maximum precision.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
A biblical play about the forced slavery of Hebrews at the hands of ancient Egypt’s aristocracy and Pharaohs. The story is portrayed through the eyes of two important biblical characters: Moses and his adopted brother Ramesses. When a prophecy threatens Ramesses, the legal son of Pharaoh Seti, and Moses’ startling revelation that he is a Hebrew, he exiles his brother. The battle between Moses and the Egyptian kingdom to free the slaves and the Bible’s demonstrations of God that may bring wrath upon the condemned human race continues.
The film is worth seeing because of Joel Edgerton, Christian Bale, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, and Ben Kingsley’s performances. Furthermore, the production design and visual effects contribute to the film’s aesthetics. However, the film’s extensive running time and shoddy screenwriting make it tedious and unconvincing at times. This could be the explanation for the film’s box office failure, as it only made $260 million on a $200 million budget, despite a stellar cast and director Ridley Scott at the helm.
Free State of Jones (2016)
‘Free State of Jones,’ starring Matthew McConaughey, is a film about Newton Knight, a Confederate Army deserter who fights Lincoln’s US government during the American Civil War. While the United States was engulfed in the conflict between freedom and slavery, Newton Knight brought free men and slaves together in one area, long before the nation and the US constitution reached an agreement on the issue. The film shows Newton’s life during the war, when he captured and founded the ‘Free State of Jones’ in SE-Mississippi, a location where Black and White people had equal rights, as well as his post-war and post-Lincoln America fight against racial inequity.
‘Free State of Jones’ has brought a part of American history to a global audience that had been concealed and lost, and even unknown to many in the present generation. However, the picture fell short of the other magnificent films about slavery and racial inequity that Hollywood has made. The film received mixed reviews from reviewers and failed to make a large profit. McConaughey’s performance is what propels you through the picture, since his character is the film’s heart and soul.
This isn’t the first film about the American Civil War on the list. But in a completely different situation. ‘Glory’ follows one of the Union army’s first military units, which was made up entirely of African-Americans except for the officers, who were white. Colonel Shaw, the battalion’s white leader, and his unwavering relationship with his gallant soldiers are the focus of the story. The covey is well-known for their valorous actions at Fort Wagner. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and won three of them, including one for Denzel Washington. It received a lot of positive feedback from critics and audiences alike.
Gone With the Wind (1939)
Although the film does not openly address slavery, it is an important and symbolic component of it. ‘Gone With the Wind,’ arguably one of the most memorable films of all time, is the pinnacle of the historical-romance genre. Despite being chastised for celebrating slavery through historical revisionism, it is recognized with influencing changes in the way African-Americans are portrayed in films. The film recounts the beautiful journey of two hazardous individuals, a deceitful woman and a rogue-outcast man. The film, which is set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the turbulent period in the South, deftly dissects the varied emotions that lingered within the confines of the besotted state at the time. As they say, love prevails over all.
I Am Slave (2010)
During my research for this essay, I came across this film, which has received little notice from the public or critics, and has received no substantial reviews or media coverage. However, the film’s tale and the real-life inspiration behind it demonstrate how important it is to watch and enjoy this film, as well as the story of the major character.
Malia is the daughter of a prominent Sudanese tribe, and her father is the community’s head, making her a fearless and formidable woman. All is lost, however, when a group of mujaheddin kidnaps her and sells her as a slave in the British slave trade, exposing her to years of slavery, prejudice, intolerance, abuse, and low-paying labour in the family that “bought” her.
Her subsequent battles to reclaim her freedom from the undesired and illegal slavery she has been compelled to bear are chronicled in the film. The fact that the film is set in present times, and the true tale behind it is not older than the 1990s, is an important part of the picture. As a result, Malia (actual name Mende Nazer) endured all of this during a time when slavery was abolished and denounced by cultures all over the world, demonstrating the roots of slavery that continue to bind the world and the people who live in it.
In Dubious Battle (2016)
Slavery can take numerous forms, including racial slavery and slavery based on rank and authority. ‘In Dubious Battle’ tells the narrative of many employees who were compelled to work for reduced salaries during the Great Depression, jeopardizing their and their families’ existence. While authoritarians and badge-wearing people impose their control on the weak and impoverished, employees are enslaved by the upper-class management’s powerful clenches and shackles, resulting in their agony. The film chronicles the narrative of two workers who organize the country’s first significant workers’ strike in response to this cruelty, which eventually led to the country’s first labor laws and labor unions, recognizing workers’ rights and freedom in exchange for fair wages.
Natt Wolff, Selena Gomez, Josh Hutcherson, Zach Braff, Ashley Greene, and James Franco feature alongside veterans Vincent D’Onofrio, Ed Harris, Bryan Cranston, Sam Shephard, and Robert Duvall in the film directed by James Franco. ‘In Dubious Battle’ is watchable, despite the bad reviews, because to Franco’s subtle and fascinating direction, as well as the collective of superb performances by the cast members.
When I say ‘Lincoln’ under my breath, I literally run out of words. Daniel Day-Lewis is my favorite actor, aside from Abraham Lincoln, who is my idol. More than meets the eye in Spielberg’s superb picture about the divided Congress over the President’s historic emancipation proclamation. The video recounts the entire political digression that resulted from the amendment, focusing on Lincoln and his unsettling views of the drifting conflict. ‘Lincoln,’ with its rich screenplay and excellent direction, is a distinct breed of picture, with a lovely background score complementing it. One of the greatest, if not the best!
The only problem is that this isn’t a movie. It’s a one-hour miniseries. But it’s a good thing. The production was nominated for a record 37 Emmy awards and went on to win nine of them. Its finale received unparalleled Nelsen ratings and is still ranked third all-time in television history. It starred LeVar Burton in the character of Kunta Kine, an enslaved young man with tremendous goals, one of which is to be free. It’s a genuine story of Alex Haley’s horrific times in servitude. The mini-series is one of the best out there, with the writers purposefully choosing to make the action in the script unpredictable in order to correctly portray the mood of the time. One of the best films about African slavery.
‘Sankofa’ is one of the few production firms that has dealt with slavery as honestly and brutally as ‘Sankofa.’ The phrase “go back, look for, and gather wisdom, power, and hope” is taken from the Ghanian Akan language. The video is a symbolic attempt to reconnect people of African heritage with their ancestral roots and culture. It’s reflected in the film’s plot, which exploits time travel to transport a well-to-do model back in time, where she is easily enslaved. The intriguing theme of the brilliantly crafted film is conveyed by a bird and the chanting and drumming of a Divine Drummer.
This one is a little weird and unique in its portrayal of slavery. Dorothy Dandridge, the first black actress to be nominated for an Academy Award, starred in it. Captain Reiker and his bonded men are the captains of a ship in the film. Aiche, the captain’s slave mistress, was also among the passengers. One of the slaves, Tamango, plots a revolt and holds Aiche captive in exchange. Tamango begs Aiche to go after Reiker threatens to shoot them all with a cannon. She doesn’t, and Reiker, true to his word, puts a stop to the band, drowning out their liberation songs. Although the love sequences between Reiker and Aiche were needless, the film’s unflinching faith in its central theme makes it worthwhile to watch.
The Birth of A Nation (2016)
“History is merely a biography of great persons,” Carlyle famously stated. While he provided that term, he did not provide a definition for great men. Nat Turner, in my opinion, was one of them. The slave uprising in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831, was the catalyst for the revolution that eventually resulted in the emancipation proclamation. The film follows his chaotic days and his never-ending struggle to rescue himself and the millions of others who are enslaved. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize and received critical acclaim for its director, acting, narrative, and cinematography. Its Oscar hopes were harmed by allegations that the film’s director, Parker, was involved in sexual assault against a woman. It’s a shame it didn’t even make the nominees.
The Pianist (2002)
When the Nazis conquered Poland in 1939, a great pianist named Wadysaw Szpilman and a six-year-old kid named Roman Polanski were among the few survivors among the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Years later, through the film ‘The Pianist,’ the youngster brought the story of the pianist to the attention of the modern world.
‘The Pianist’ tells the story of Wadysaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew who was forced into slave labor after an officer saved him from certain death before his family was committed to the gas chambers right in front of him. Szpilman was never able to save his family, but he fought for his life in a series of slave labor camps until the war’s end.
The picture was a labor of love for filmmaker Roman Polanski, who had lost his mother during WWII in concentration camps. ‘The Pianist’ is both dazzling and terrifying for every viewer, as it provides them with a brilliantly acted, exquisitely directed, and perfectly constructed and foretold story; however, it also forces them to witness the heinous abominations the innocent Jewish race faced through the story of a brave, disillusioned, and afraid man among them. ‘The Pianist,’ a critically praised classic that will leave you awe-struck by its ambiguities and beauty, is a deep and realistic view into the events of the Holocaust and the Nazi slave trade.
After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, tensions between Japan and the United States grew extremely high throughout WWII. Many young men enlisted in the services after the United States entered the war to help the greater cause. ‘Unbroken’ is based on the true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic distance runner who became a US Air Force bombardier. Zamperini was one of hundreds of American troops held as Prisoners of War by the Japanese Imperial Army, where they were exposed to atrocities such as forced servitude.
Although it is debatable if ‘Unbroken’ is a PoW film rather than a “slavery film,” the film’s depiction of the connected horrible events in Japanese PoW camps qualifies it for the list. The video concentrates mostly on the camp where Zamperini was held captive by a Japanese commander named Mutsushiro Watanabe, who was a war criminal according to US WWII archives. Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut is a jaw-dropping and harrowing demonstration of forced slavery, which she wonderfully and completely brings to the screen. The factual authenticity of the film, as well as Jack O’Connell’s portrayal of Zamperini, were universally praised. ‘Unbroken,’ which has been nominated for three Academy Awards, also features Joel and Etan Coen as screenplay authors, giving us yet another reason to see it.