“Ghosts of Amistad” screening sparks conversation about slavery
On the evening of Thursday, Feb. 9, the Sawyer Seminar Series held a screening of Ghosts of Amistad at the State Theatre on College Ave. This screening was funded by the Department of African American Studies, State College Area School District, and Penn State’s Office of Educational Equity.
Dr. Cynthia Young, head of the African American Studies Department, opened up the night by saying kind words about the screening. She then introduced Dr. Nan Woodruff, Penn State professor and author. Woodruff then extended a warm welcome to Tony Buba, the film’s director, and Marcus Rediker, professor, historian, and writer.
“Ghost of Amistad” is a film created by Tony Buba, based on Marcus Rediker’s “The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom.” The Amistad Rebellion occurred in 1839. A small group of enslaved Africans banded together and seized their ship, the Amistad, from their captors. They then sailed it from the North coast of Cuba to the Northern tip of Long Island, where they were captured by the American Navy. In America, they were charged with “murder and piracy” and jailed in Connecticut.
With the help of American abolitionists, these rebels were able to wage and win a legal defense campaign in front of the Supreme Court. Their freedom was afford in 1841, and the rebels returned home to Sierra Leone in 1842. The actions that transpired with this rebellion continued to fuel — even radicalize — many anti-slavery movements around the world. Many in the United States saw these rebels as heroes.
In this film, a small camera crew follows Rediker and Buba chronicling their 110-day trip to Sierra Leone in 2013 visiting the home villages of the people who seized the slave schooner Amistad in 1839. Rediker said the central mission and drive behind this film was, “to find out the story that only the elders in Sierra Leone know through the oral tradition and the story passed down through 7 generations.”
The film showcases their interview with elders about local memory of the case, their search for the long-lost ruins of Lomboko, and the slave trading factory where their cruel transatlantic voyage began. Buba and Rediker, through the use the knowledge of villagers, fishermen, and truck drivers, recover a lost history from below in the struggle against slavery. Buba said, “we were just going in cold. We took the least amount of equipment as possible.” The film shows Buba and Rediker travelling for long hours from village to village speaking to the natives.
Rediker told audience members, “what we really wanted to do was perform a different kind of research. To expand upon the archive of my book to include the people in Sierra Leone. So, they would become a living archive. Their experiences will add to my book’s research.” The film shows Buba and Rediker striking out in many villages. Many of the residents did not have the information that they were looking for. However, they found success in two villages. in Falu and Toko there was a lot of knowledge of slave ships and the Amistad Rebellion.
In reflecting on the film, both Buba and Rediker spoke of how rewarding their time was in Sierra Leone. With the success of the film, they were able to raise about $10,000 towards Ebola aide and relief for communities in Sierra Leone. Rediker speculated that most of the men and women they met on their trip are probably dead because of the virus. This, Rediker said, makes the interviews and personal accounts in the film extremely meaningful.