‘Descendant’ and ‘The rebel life of Mrs. Rosa Parks Review: Two Documentaries Offer New Windows on Chapters of Black History


Two powerful documentaries explore different aspects of black history this week, each shedding light on misrepresented or under-covered chapters. Presented by Barack Obama’s company under its Netflix deal, “Descendant” examines the discovery of a long-wrecked ship that brought enslaved Africans to Alabama, while “The Rebel Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks ” reclaims a figure whose legacy was too often characterized as the product of tired feet.

“Descendant” tells the story of the Clotilda, the last known ship that transported Africans to America in 1860, before it was intentionally sunk in the Mobile River to cover up the crime. The history of that period echoes to the present day, as relatives of those who endured that journey are among the interested parties when the wreckage of the ship, long a local legend, was located in 2019 .

Directed by Margaret Brown, “Descendant” brings the issue of reparations into sharp focus that has been lost in the course of these discussions, illustrating this painful past through the thoughts and feelings of those who live in the area today .

A bit slow at first, the story gives way to a thoughtful conversation about how best to remember this story and honor its victims, while highlighting the modern science surrounding the ship’s identification and, thanks to DNA, linking potentially their captives with theirs. descendants

Although “Descendants” plays on the most prominent platform through Netflix, “Rosa Parks” is more compelling in a different way, looking at the story of another Alabama daughter, and how her contribution to the rights movement civil rights was minimized because she was a woman, while her image was “distorted and misunderstood”.

Emmett Lewis in the Netflix documentary 'Descendant'.

The film opens with Parks appearing on the quiz show “To Tell the Truth,” where celebrity panelists struggle to identify her, making vaguely condescending assumptions about her quiet dignity.

However, as Parks’ great-nephew Lonnie McCauley points out, Parks was hardly an idle bystander to the movement, but “a soldier from birth,” points reinforced both by interviews with her and by portions of her writings read by LisaGay Hamilton.

“I’ve never gotten used to being a public person,” Parks says, noting that in all her conversations with reporters over the years about the act of silent defiance that launched the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, denying – to go to the back. off the bus to give up his seat to a white patron: “he never told anyone” it was because his feet were tired.

Like “Descendant,” directors Yoruba Richen and Johanna Hamilton connect Parks’ story directly to the present, as historians point out that the statue commemorating her that sits on the Capitol was dedicated in 2013, the same year that the Supreme Court invalidated key parts of the vote. Bill of Rights, a signature achievement of the activism that Parks championed.

Perhaps most of all, “Ms. Rosa Parks” highlights the selflessness of its subject and aims to offer a detailed portrait of a woman who, through the vagaries of history, was often reduced to a symbol. “She didn’t want the awards. She didn’t want the money. She didn’t want the fame,” says McCauley.

Parks, rather, wanted to, in fact, dedicated her life to fighting for justice and equality. And as these two projects make clear, the fight for it continues.

“Descendant” opens on October 21 in select theaters and on Netflix.

“The Rebel Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” premieres Oct. 19 on the Peacock.

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