Ship part

‘Descendant’ tells the story of the descendants of the last slave ship Clotilda – Deadline

For more than 150 years, the waters of Alabama’s Mobile River have held a secret: the final resting place of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to reach American shores.

In 2019, the remains of the ship were eventually discovered in a section of the river next to land still owned by the family of the slaver who had funded the human trafficking operation. Part of Descending, Margaret Brown’s film premiering in the American Documentary Competition at Sundance, revolves around the long effort to find the Clotilda.

“We were always talking to the people who were working on [identifying] the Clotilda, the marine archeology that’s involved in that,” Brown said during an appearance in Deadline’s Sundance virtual studio. “I don’t think they expected it to be as well preserved as it was…It’s a story that continues.”

The main objective of Descending focuses on contemporary people who are descended from the men and women transported into servitude aboard the Clotilda in 1860. They are among the few African Americans today able to know, in detail, the circumstances under which their ancestors were reduced to slavery were brought into this country. .

After the civil war, newly freed survivors of the Clotilda settled in a community just outside of Mobile called Africatown. Free or not, they remained subject to the whims and economic priorities of white Mobile people, as documented Descending. The film shows, for example, how wealthy white landowners sold their property around Africatown to industrial companies, which then built factories that exposed locals to cancer-causing toxins.

“There’s a neighborhood in the movie called Lewis Quarters, and I remember driving down this road that’s in the middle of an industrial neighborhood…surrounded on three sides by industry,” recalls Brown. “I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my god, is there a way to capture what this feels like?’ We all started crying, everyone that was there… It was so palpable, that feeling like, why would someone do that to people?

Examples of what has been called “environmental racism” permeate our history.

“It’s not a new story. It’s something we see a lot of in America,” Brown observed. who can trace their lineage in a very tangible way through this vessel.”

Watch the conversation in the video above.