Exploring the best slave movies of all time offers a window into a past that should never be forgotten. These films, more than mere entertainment, serve as poignant reminders of the brutal history of slavery and the resilience of the human spirit. They tell stories of pain, struggle, and hope, capturing the essence of an era that has shaped our world. As we journey through these cinematic portrayals, we gain a deeper understanding and empathy for those who lived through these challenging times.
1. ’12 Years A Slave’ (2013)
’12 Years A Slave’ stands out as a remarkable movie about slavery, and its acclaim is well-deserved, especially with its win for Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards. This film not only shines in its storytelling but also played a significant role in advancing the careers of several talented African-American actors.
The film’s narrative centers on Solomon Northup’s experiences as he moves from one plantation to another. Northup, originally a free man, witnessed firsthand the varying conditions endured by slaves. This compelling story vividly portrays the relentless struggle for freedom faced by slaves and poignantly underscores that emancipation is the most significant triumph one can achieve.
2. ‘Lincoln’ (2012)
‘Lincoln’ is another great film that tells the story of slavery through the eyes of one of the greatest American leaders in history. It tells the story of President Abraham Lincoln himself, who we have always known to be a champion of freedom and a man who hated slavery more than anything. And when you look at the amazing acting of Daniel Day-Lewis, the movie becomes even better.
This film focuses on the events surrounding Lincoln’s historic proclamation about the emancipation of African-American slaves all over the US. It looks at how divided Congress is, as it seeks to trace the entire political effects that emerged out of the proclamation. It is rich in writing and storytelling, despite the fact that this story has been told many times in the past.
3. ‘Django Unchained’ (2012)
‘Django Unchained’ is not like your regular dramatic slave movie because this film is one that is full of action. Of course, it only makes sense for it to be action-packed, considering that it was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. However, even though Tarantino films are primarily known for their blood and gore, Django Unchained still focuses on the slavery aspect of the film’s setting.
The film focuses on a freed slave named Django, who joins forces with a bounty hunter to save his wife, who is working in the plantations of one of the most ruthless plantation owners in the country. It’s a story about how Django, a talented shot, was able to go through hell and back again just so he could save his wife.
4. ‘Glory’ (1989)
‘Glory’ is a good film that is focused on the events surrounding the American Civil War. But while it may be a Civil War film, the thing you need to know about this movie is that it focuses on a military unit that consists of African-American soldiers who are under the supervision of white officers.
The film is told from the perspective of one of the white commanders of that battalion, as he was able to form a good relationship with his black soldiers in the middle of a war. So, instead of telling a story about the dichotomy between blacks and whites, it shows us how we are all one and the same, especially when it comes to fighting for the same cause. This is why this film, starring the charismatic Denzel Washington, won three Academy Awards during its time.
5. ‘Spartacus’ (1960)
If you have noticed, most of the films we talked about at this point have been all about African-American slavery. However, ‘Spartacus’ takes us all the way back to a time when the Roman Empire was still prominent. This film happened during the time of gladiators, who were basically slaves that fought for entertainment hundreds of years ago.
‘Spartacus’ tells the story of a gladiator named Spartacus, who led a revolt of gladiators against the seemingly unbeatable Roman Empire. Their goal was to acquire sufficient funds so that they could escape Rome and eventually find themselves in lands far away from their slavers. It’s an action-packed story that is also full of drama.
6. ‘Amistad’ (1997)
‘Amistad’ is an amazing historical drama that shows us the struggle that slaves have to go through for freedom. Unlike most of the slavery films about black people, Amistad focuses more on African slaves who were specifically brought to the United States to be sold as slaves to the Americans.
The story revolves around captives from Sierra Leone who were abducted from their home country in Africa so that they could be sold as slaves. When some of the captives were able to escape their chains while on the ship, they started a revolt and killed off the crew of the ship, only to be tried for their “crimes” when the ship was captured by the American Navy.
7. ‘Gone With The Wind’ (1939)
There are a lot of things we can say about ‘Gone With The Wind’ and its success. It held the record for the highest-grossing film for 25 years until ‘The Sound of Music’ finally supplanted it. And while it might be far from the highest-grossing film in today’s modern era, it is still the highest-grossing film of all time when you account for inflation.
That said, ‘Gone With The Wind’ isn’t only about slavery, as it focuses more on the romance between the two central characters. But while it is a tumultuous love story, it has elements that focus on slavery during the time of the Civil War as well. And the fact that it tackles a lot of different issues, all while focusing on the main story between the central characters, makes it one of the greatest American films of all time.
8. ‘Tamango’ (1958)
‘Tamango’ is one of the oldest movies that specifically talks about slavery. And the most surprising part about it is that it is directed by a man who was blacklisted from America and had to move to Europe to continue his career. Of course, it is understandable why he was blacklisted, as movies about slavery during the 50s and 60s were yet to be commonplace among the prominently white-focused films in Hollywood.
That said, ‘Tamango’ is based on the short story by Prosper Merimee and is about a slave ship that sailed from Africa to Cuba, as the slaves resisted their captors while onboard the ship. The film talks a lot about slavery and even explores the life of the African musicians on board the ship. It is a masterpiece that became one of the best movies about slavery.
9. Ben-Hur (1959)
‘Ben-Hur’ is similar to Spartacus in the sense that it is a historical drama film about the time of gladiators, who were basically slaves for the entertainment of the Romans hundreds of years ago. And what you should know about this film is that it is one of the greatest movies of all time, as it is tied with ‘Titanic’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ for the most number of Academy Awards with 11.
As the most ambitious and most expensive film of its time, ‘Ben-Hur’ was a groundbreaker back then. In more than 200 minutes of amazing storytelling, this film combines a lot of different elements, such as Christianity and slavery. This is why this is one of the most amazing films of its time, as it was able to break box office records back then, all while earning plenty of different awards.
10. ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915)
‘The Birth of a Nation’ is a very old silent film that tells the story about the Ku Klux Klan, which you probably already know is a white supremacist movement. And while there is a 2016 version of this film, it might be better for you to watch the original, which was released more than a hundred years before the remake.
The movie focuses on two different families that used to be friends but ended up fighting because they chose different sides in the Civil War. The first family seeks the advance the cause of the blacks, who want freedom and emancipation. On the other hand, the other group seeks to empower the whites more. This leads to the uprising of the Ku Klux Klan.
11. ’13th‘ (2016)
‘The 13th‘ is a film that focuses a lot on history and what the 13th Amendment was for, especially if you are looking to learn more about American history and the things that led to the different changes that were introduced throughout time. In case you didn’t know, the 13th Amendment is the amendment that abolished slavery in the US.
’13th‘ is not a movie but a documentary that allows you to see how slavery in the United States came about and how it was modified over the years to what it is today. The film explores how black people are still being mistreated and how easily they are imprisoned compared to other ethnicities in the United States.
In many ways, there is slavery in the sense that those who were imprisoned are forced to work for meager sums of money just to pay off their fines. It is a controversial film that will allow you to see the connection between today’s imprisonment and yesterday’s slavery.
12. ‘Roots’ (1977)
When it comes to the best movies ever made about American slavery, ‘Roots’ should be standing right up there with some of the best slavery films ever made. And it became quite popular among Americans, who were unaware of what happened in the country during the days when slavery was still taking root in the US.
Roots tells the story about a historical fact that you probably don’t know yourself, as it explores the inhumane treatment of black families and slaves during the 1700s and how the events of those years are still quite prominent today. It has plenty of horrible scenes that will instantly shock your core and make you understand how horrible slavery is.
13. ‘I Am Slave’ (2010)
‘I Am Slave’ is not a story about black Americans but is about the slavery of the people of Malia during the middle of the 1800s. It is actually a story based on true events that really happened back then, as the film sought to re-enact the events surrounding the story on which this movie was based.
The amazing part about I Am Slave is that it doesn’t only revolve around slavery, per se. Instead, it also talks about different types of slavery, such as human trafficking and sex slavery. It revolves around how young women were abused and how slavery isn’t all about forcing people to work for a meager sum but also forcing them to give pleasure. In a way, it is an eye-opening film that a lot of people should watch.
14. ‘Runaway Slave’ (2012)
‘Runaway Slave’ is a great film that any patriotic American should watch because of how it reveals the welfare system and how it can be considered a modern form of slavery. While we don’t have slavery today as far as the conventional meaning of the word is concerned, the thing about today’s form of slavery is that it is rooted in our capitalist society and how there is inequality in terms of how different people are treated when it comes to their rights and their place in society.
It allows you to rethink whether or not there is still slavery today, as you look at the different payments you have to make regularly just to keep up with the demands of normal life.
15. ‘Sankofa’ (1993)
While many different slavery movies talk about the topic on the lighter side, ‘Sankofa’ is brutally honest in its approach. In case you are interested, the word “Sankofa” is derived from the Ghanian Akan language, which means “go back, look for, and gain wisdom, power, and hope.” In a way, this is a film that allows the people of Africa to go back to their original roots and gain wisdom by looking back to where they came from.
Of course, the movie actually uses time travel in its premise. It revolves around a successful model who got sent back in time to the time of slavery, as she was immediately enslaved. In a way, it allows today’s Africans to see how tough those days of slavery were and how they should never forget their roots while moving forward.
16. ‘The Help’ (2011)
‘The Help’ is an inspiring film that became one of the most successful slavery movies of the 2010s, which is full of some of the most amazing movies about slavery. And you get to see this film from the eyes of a privileged white woman during the time when slavery was still prominent in the US.
This film follows the story of Emma Stone’s character, Skeeter, who just graduated from university and is looking to become a writer. Certain events in her life led her to write a book about the unjust treatment of African-American slaves, who have been serving white families for decades.
17. ‘Get Out’ (2017)
‘Get Out’ is a popular horror film that will instantly make you think that it is about slavery, but it actually isn’t. However, the fact that it seems like it is about slavery at the start of the film is why we included it on this list.
The film revolves around a black man who has a white girlfriend. His girlfriend invites him over to meet her well-off family, which actually has black people working under them in a master-slave type of relationship during modern times. However, the truth is that there is a twist that will allow you to see that it isn’t about slavery but is about white people idolizing the physical supremacy of black people in this eye-opening horror film.
18. ‘The Pianist’ (2002)
‘The Pianist’ is a movie that is very inspirational, even though it might not seem like a movie that talks about slavery. That’s because it is focused on a Polish pianist during the time of World War II, as you get to see how Jews were basically slaves during this time.
This movie revolves around the aforementioned pianist, who is actually Jewish as well. It tells how he was able to survive the Holocaust during the Second Great War and how it still affected him. This film is so great that it won three Oscars.
19. ‘Belle’ (2013)
‘Belle’ is a British-American period drama that may seem like it is similar to ‘Pride and Prejudice’ but is actually much deeper than that in the sense that it tells the story of slavery in 18th century England.
This film centers around the love story between a young mixed-race woman and a slave trader. However, because of the unique arrangement between the woman and the man, it becomes quite complicated, as the girl’s father and the man who trades the slaves both have issues with this budding romance.
20. ‘Amazing Grace’ (2006)
‘Amazing Grace’ is a movie that you might be familiar with because of the song. The truth is that this film actually revolves around the events of the writing of the song itself, which is still one of the greatest American songs today.
The film focuses on different stories, such as William Wilberforce’s fight in parliament and how he worked to outlaw slavery in Europe. On top of that, you will also see John Newton, the man who wrote the ‘Amazing Grace’ song, participating in the abolition of slavery in America.
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