The Interesting Narration of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African was the first influential slave autobiography. It caused a sensation when published in 1789, fueling a growing anti-slavery movement in the U.S. and England. This BBC production employs dramatic reconstruction, archival material and interviews with scholars such as Stuart Hall and Ian Duffield to provide the social and economic context of the 18th century slave trade.
Equiano's narrative begins in the West African village where he was kidnapped into slavery in 1756. He vividly recalls the pestilence and horror of the Middle Passage: "I now wished for the last friend, Death, to relieve me." Eventually the young Equiano was shipped to a Virginia plantation where he witnessed slaves tortured with thumbscrews and the iron muzzle. Slavery, he would write, brutalizes everyone - the slaves, their overseers, plantation wives, the whole of society. Sold again to a British naval officer, he learned to read and write, became a skilled trader, and eventually managed to buy his freedom.
Equiano's adventures eventually brought him to London where he married into English society and became a leading abolitionist. His expose of the infamous slaver Zong - 133 slaves thrown overboard in mid-ocean for the insurance money - shook the nation. But it was Equiano's book that would prove his most lasting contribution to the abolitionist movement, a book which vividly demonstrated the humanity of Africans as much as the inhumanity of slavery.
"Powerful and evocative, this superb film is faithful to the single most important personal account ever written by a victim of the slave trade...Wonderfully instructive for high school and college students." - Winthrop D. Jordan, University of Mississippi "A superb biography and treatment of slavery and the early abolition movement." - John W. Blasingame, Yale University "Will make students want to read Equiano's amazing narrative...Tells us as much about the 18th century Atlantic world as Ben Franklin's autobiography." - Peter H. Wood, Duke University
If you are a student or a professor:Watch now
If you are a librarian or a professor: