The Sundance audience at Sam Pollard’s documentary “Slavery By Another Name” gave the director a 2-minute standing ovation after the film premiere.
Merging testimonials, reenactments, and archival footage, Pollard’s film recounts the hidden existence of slavery decades after the Emancipation Proclamation when blacks were forced in to labor of because of ostensible “debts.”
Sam Pollard performs a remarkable act of historical reclamation in this documentary, recounting the many ways in which American slavery persisted as a practice many decades after its supposed abolition. It is a story impressive in its sweep and alarming in the way that its larger theme—an American moral failure—has been obscured in history.
Facing economic catastrophe under Reconstruction, as well as freed black citizens’ political and social ascendancy, southern states found effective tactics to continue forced servitude in new modes. Techniques such as peonage (forced labor to pay off debts), leasing convicts to private business, or forcing convict labor in state-run enterprises subjected newly freed American citizens to inescapable conditions that insidiously operated under more palatable names than slavery.
Pollard recounts this slowly evolving hidden history, including the activism that powerfully confronted it, with a stirring combination of photographs, reenactments, and the testimony of key historians, bringing to light many shocking details, but more importantly redefining “emancipation” in history and American political life.
The film will have it’s television premiere on PBS on Feb. 13 at 9 p.m., as part of the channel’s Black History Month programming.