'Enslaved' Episode 5 Preview: Epix docu shows how enslaved Africans resisted in Africa, America and slave ships
'The Diving with Purpose' divers embark on a mission to positively identify a perfectly preserved wreck that is believed to be a 'freedom boat'
Very often, documentaries on the slave trade portray enslaved Africans as victims. 'Enslaved' on Epix is bringing a new dimension to this narrative by including stories of how Africans bought and sold as slaves resisted by preserving their culture despite all odds, and sometimes even managing to set up their own communities in the US and in South America, battling their oppressors in more visible ways.
The fifth episode goes into their stories of resistance in more detail, aptly titled 'Resistance', moving from Ghana, to the UK, to the US. Unsurprisingly, we will get to learn more about the thousands of slaves who risked their lives as part of the 'Underground Railroad'. Labeled as "runaways", they could be shot dead, hanged or dragged back to their former masters if they were caught since no law protected their freedom as human beings. And yet, all of them chose this risky path to freedom and possible death over imprisonment.
In the current time period, these stories of resistance are even more valuable because they allow African-Americans to take pride in their communities' will to survive and resist brutal forms of oppression. In the diving segment of the episode, we will see 'The Diving with Purpose' divers embark on a mission to positively identify a perfectly preserved wreck that is believed to be a "freedom boat" called the 'Home'. The journey on this schooner represented the last leg of the journey for many escaped slaves.
The wreck, resting in the chilly depths of the Great Lakes area, once ferried African-Americans to freedom in Canada, which was a hub of abolitionism in the mid-19th century. The most heartening part of this diving expedition will be learning about the captain of the ship and the runaways who he ferried and also their stories of finding freedom in their own lifetimes, something unimaginable when they were working in the plantations down South.
Journalists Simcha Jacobovici and Afua Hirsch will journey to investigate the roles that Africans played in resistance at home in Africa, and in the Americas. They will uncover histories of slave uprisings on the high seas and resistance battles in Ghana — very much like the Black Pirates of the Caribbean we learned about in the last episode. In particular, we will hear more about Robert Smalls, who escaped slavery and took others to freedom by stealing a Confederate transport ship during the US Civil War.
And last but not the least, Samuel L Jackson will examine how songs were coded messages of resistance that gave slaves the information they needed to escape. Music has always been an important part of the African heritage in the US, as we learned in last week's episode. Forced to play music at their master's parties, it also became a way to communicate along with African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) that helped slaves from different regions of Africa (and with different languages) to learn how to pass messages to each other without their overseers knowing anything. It will be a fascinating dive into how slaves used the limited resources and means given to them to find way to push back despite being stripped of their humanity.
'Enslaved' Episode 5 airs on October 12 at 10/9c on Epix.