At the start of the American Civil War, sometime around 1859-1860, the last slave ship arrives off the coast of the American state of Alabama. More than 50 years after this horrific practice – the slave trade was banned by the US Congress in 1807 – was banned. “110 Souls” were abducted to Mobile, Alabama by the Meaher family of entrepreneurs from various African regions. Years later, survivors of this drama founded the village of Africatown. Their history is passed on verbally from generation to generation, but is not recorded – partly because it remains a touchy subject and the next of kin fear being punished.
But until 2019, the ship – deliberately sunk by the Meahers to cover up evidence of their heinous act – was never found. The next of kin want physical evidence, with which the history, or their history, can be preserved even better. That will happen at a certain point: the Clotilda, as the ship is called, will be found in 2019, and a museum will be built. An interesting angle for a film. Even more salient is that the Meahers exert influence in Africatown to this day: industries surrounding the village are in the hands of these entrepreneurs.
And those industries result in many cancer cases being diagnosed among the local residents. Descendant in that sense also provides a straightforward and painful answer to the question: why is history relevant? Because in Africatown the history of slavery lives on. With a wealthy family that still takes on the role of oppressor. It is only a pity that documentary maker Margaret Brown casts this subject in a boring form. Yes, the shots of the water and shore are poetic and appropriate. But the interviews in the film are filmed in a rather old-fashioned way.
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It sometimes almost seems as if American documentary makers lack the courage to mirror their subject in an exciting form. Descendant in that respect, at times looks more like a report than a film.