List of films featuring slavery

Film has been the most influential medium in the presentation of the history of slavery to the general public.[1] The American film industry has had a complex relationship with slavery, and until recent decades often avoided the topic. Films such as The Birth of a Nation (1915)[2] and Gone with the Wind (1939) became controversial because they gave a favorable depiction. In 1940, The Santa Fe Trail gave a strong condemnation of abolitionist John Brown's attacks on slavery.[3] The American civil rights movement in the 1950s made defiant slaves into heroes.[4]

Most Hollywood films used American settings, although Spartacus (1960) dealt with an actual slave revolt in the Roman Empire known as the Third Servile War.[5] It failed, and all the rebels were executed, but their spirit lived on according to the film.[6] The Last Supper (La última cena in Spanish) was a 1976 film directed by Cuban Tomás Gutiérrez Alea about the teaching of Christianity to slaves in Cuba and emphasizes the role of ritual and revolt. Burn! takes place on the imaginary Portuguese island of Queimada (where the locals speak Spanish) and merges historical events that took place in Brazil, Cuba, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, and elsewhere.

List of films

The following dramatic and documentary films featuring slavery are listed alphabetically. (For movies portraying penal labour see the list linked from here.)

(For a collection intended to link to each Wikipedia page concerning a movie about slavery, see Category:Films about slavery.)

Film Year Description
12 Years a Slave2013The film is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery.[7]
500 Years Later2005Documentary covering the onset of slavery, its subsequent colonialism, and how Africans are still struggling for basic freedom.
Abe Lincoln in Illinois1940The early life of Abraham Lincoln and his rise to becoming president.
Abraham Lincoln1930A biopic of Abraham Lincoln and his role as president during the American Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter2012Based on the novel of the same name, it portrays Abraham Lincoln as becoming a vampire hunter mostly in secret.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn1939Mark Twain's title character befriends and takes a raft down the Mississippi River with Jim, an escaped slave hoping to win his freedom. Later films of the book were also made in 1960, 1973 (Soviet Union film Hopelessly Lost), 1974, 1975, 1976 (Japanese anime series), and 1993.
Aferim!2015Tragic adventure comedy telling the story of a bounty hunter in pursuit of a Romani (Gypsy) slave in 1835 Wallachia.
Alex Haley's Queen1993Based on the life of Queen Jackson Haley, Alex Haley's paternal grandmother.
Amazing Grace2006Amazing Grace is a biographical movie about the Abolitionist William Wilberforce's campaign against the slave trade in the British Empire, and features the role of John Newton, the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace, in Wilberforce's campaign.
Amistad1997In 1839, a slave revolt takes place on the Spanish ship La Amistad which is heading to Cuba. Two white survivors are ordered to navigate the ship back to Africa, but navigate the ship to the United States instead. The slaves then have to fight for their freedom in court, where they are eventually defended by ex-U.S. president John Quincy Adams.[8]
Ashanti1979Using modern-day slave-trading and set in Africa, a white doctor goes on a journey to find his wife who was mistaken for a native woman and kidnapped by slave traders while swimming. Getting no help from the police or the local authorities, the doctor gets a lead and tracks his missing wife across the country with a couple of allies.
Band of Angels1957Love story set around the US Civil War in which a plantation owner with a past raises a black slave as his son and buys a posh mixed-race slave girl.[9]
Battlefield Earth2000In this film, humanity has been enslaved by a race known as the Psychlos.[10]
Belle2013Story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a mixed-race child of a British Royal Navy Officer, and her involvement in the legal case of the Zong massacre.
Beloved1998A former slave experiences flashbacks to her past as a slave.[8]
Ben-Hur1925, 1959 & 2016A first century Jewish prince is forced to become a galley slave.
The Birth of a Nation2016Nat Turner, a former slave in America, leads a liberation movement in 1831 to free African-Americans in Virginia that results in a violent retaliation from whites.
The Book of Negroes 2015A Canadian television series based on the book of the same name.
Boy Slaves1939An exposé of child labor. Children entrapped in peonage strike for better food, try to alert the government, but fail in these attempts.
Brother Future1991Brother Future is a science fiction movie. A street kid from Detroit, Michigan, is hit by a car, and when he awakens, he finds himself a slave in South Carolina in 1822. The boy then has to help his fellow slaves so that he can return to his own time.
Burn!1969An agent provocateur is sent to the fictional island of Queimada, a Portuguese colony in the Caribbean to replace the Portuguese administration by a formally sovereign state controlled by white latifundists friendly to Great Britain. To realize this project, the agent persuades the black slaves to fight for their liberation from slavery.
Caribbean Gold1952
Captain Blood1935An enslaved Irish doctor becomes a pirate.
Cloud Atlas 2012 Plotlines involving escapes from historical and futuristic forms of slavery
C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America2004A faux British documentary of today reviewing American history, operating under the counter-historical premise that the Confederate States of America won the American Civil War, annexed all of the United States in the process, and thereby preserved and expanded slavery throughout the nation.
Django Unchained2012In the American South in 1858, a slave is purchased by a German dentist turned bounty hunter, and then agrees to help him track down a small group of dangerous outlaws in exchange for his freedom and the rescuing of his wife from a cruel plantation owner.
Drum1976The film, a sequel to Mandingo, features a black slave who falls in love with a plantation owner's daughter. When the owner threatens castration, the slave plans a revolt.[8]
El Cimarron2007Based on the life of Marcos Xiorro who conspired and planned a slave revolt in Puerto Rico in 1821.
Enslavement: The True Story of Fanny Kemble2000The film depicts the story of British actress and abolitionist Fanny Kemble, who becomes horrified by the treatment of her husband's enslaved people. Fanny later publishes her journals and their first-hand accounts of slavery, helping influence the British government's decision to withhold support of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.[11][12]
Fortunes of Captain Blood1950
The Foxes of Harrow1947Covering approximately the years 1827–1837, an illegitimate son of an Irish aristocratic family comes to America. He is a gambler and scoundrel who acquires a large plantation with many slaves, and builds an empire in antebellum New Orleans. The movie was the first based upon a book written by an African-American writer.[8]
Free State of Jones2016Disenchanted confederate soldiers rally with runaway slaves to establish an abolitionist colony in Mississippi, led by Newton Knight, who fathers a child with a black woman. That story is framed by the one of his great-grandsons, who is prosecuted in 1948 for attempting to marry a white woman while possibly being of mixed descent.
Frederick Douglass and the White Negro2008A documentary telling the story of ex-slave, abolitionist, writer and politician Frederick Douglass and his escape to Ireland from America in the 1840s.
Freedom2014In the United States in the 1850s, a black man attempts to free his family from a tobacco plantation.[7]
Ganga Zumba1963Not released until 1972 because of a military coup in Brazil, the film highlights Ganga Zumba, a 17th-century slave revolutionary.
Gladiator2000A Roman general in the 2nd century A.D. is turned into a slave who must fight for his life, and his country, as a gladiator.
Glory1989During the American Civil War, an escaped slave joins an all-black fighting unit of the Union Army.[8]
Goodbye Uncle Tom1971Addio Zio Tom is a pseudo-documentary in which the filmmakers go back in time and visit antebellum America, using period documents to examine, in graphic detail, the racist ideology and degrading conditions faced by Africans under slavery.[8]
Gone with the Wind1939The film features a slave nursemaid as a prominent supporting character. Actress Hattie McDaniel made history by becoming the first African American woman to win an Academy Award for her performance (Best Supporting Actress).[8]
A House Divided: Denmark Vesey's Rebellion1982A 1982 television film about Denmark Vesey, a literate skilled carpenter and former slave who planned a slave rebellion in 1822 in Charleston, South Carolina.
I Am Slave2010A U.K. television story of one woman's fight for freedom from modern-day slavery, based on the experience of Mende Nazer, a British author, human rights activist, and a former slave in Sudan.
Ill Gotten Gains1997Independent film about the Atlantic slave trade
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom1984In the film, enslaved children are forced to mine for Sankara stones.
Jefferson in Paris1995The film shows the relationship between Thomas Jefferson, who was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a slave owner, and Sally Hemings, a biracial slave.[8]
Joseph1995The biblical story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph is an Egyptian slave who earns a reputation as an interpreter of dreams.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat1999Joseph's biblical story portrayed in a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber, starred Donny Osmond as Joseph.
Joseph: King of Dreams2000The Biblical story of Joseph portrayed in an animated musical.
The Journey of August King1995A widowed farmer reluctantly provides safe passage to a run-away slave as he returns home from an annual trip to purchase provisions and supplies, starring Jason Patric as August King and Thandie Newton as Annalees.
The Keeping Room2014The film takes place during the American Civil War. Three women in the South have to protect their home against soldiers of the Union Army.[7]
K.G.F: Chapter 12018A Kannada movie based on a True story of a gold mine in Kolar and its slaves
The Last Supper1976A plantation owner during Spanish colonial times recreates the last supper using slaves, in order to teach them about Christianity.
The Legend of Nigger Charley1972The blaxploitation film takes place in America in the Antebellum South. It follows three slaves seeking their freedom.
The Legend of Tarzan2016George Washington Williams convinces Tarzan (John Clayton III, the Earl of Greystoke) to travel back to Africa to investigate claims of an ongoing slave trade.
Lincoln2012Near the end of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln pushes to abolish slavery in the U.S. by urging Congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[8]
The Littlest Rebel1935
Manderlay2005Set in the early 1930s, the film tells the story of Grace, an idealist who attempts to oust the owners of a plantation in Alabama and free the slaves living there.
Mandingo1975A slave owner insists that his son, who is sleeping with the slaves, marry a white woman and father him a son. He marries, and trains a Mandingo slave to be a bare-knuckle fighter.
Motherland2010Documentary sequel to 500 Years Later, the film gives an overview of the history of the African continent and its people from Ancient Egypt to the present.
Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property2003Documentary film about Nat Turner
North and South1985–1994A three-part TV miniseries outlining the period leading to and during the American civil war, and the post-war Reconstruction.
The North Star2016The film is based on "the true story of Big Ben Jones, a slave who escaped from a Southern plantation in 1848 and is helped by local Quakers".[7]
Passage du milieu1999Docudrama about a trans-Atlantic slave ship voyage of black slaves from the West Coast of Africa to the Caribbean, a part of the triangular slave trade route called the Middle Passage.
Paradesi2013A Tamil language movie that is based on true events that took place in a tea plantation during the 1930s.
Prince Among Slaves2006A PBS historical documentary about the life of Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori, a prince from West Africa who was made a slave in the United States and freed 40 years later on orders of the American president, John Quincy Adams.
The Prince of Egypt1998Former Prince Moses frees the Hebrew slaves from the Pharaoh of Egypt.
Quilombo1984Account of Quilombo dos Palmares, a 17th-century Brazilian community of escaped slaves. Features its one-time leader, Zumbi.
Raiders of the Seven Seas1953
The Retrieval 2013 During the Civil War, a young free boy is sent north by his bounty hunter gang to retrieve a wanted fugitive slave.
Roots1977An acclaimed eight-episode TV mini-series based on Alex Haley's biography about his family moving from slavery to liberation.[8]
Roots2016A four-episode remake of the 1977 miniseries.
Roots: The Gift1988A film portraying events occurring between the second and third episodes of the first miniseries.
Sankofa1993In the supernatural film, a black American model travels to Ghana and is transported back in time by a local mystic. The model finds herself a slave in the past.[8]
Santa Fe Trail1940Western centered around abolitionist John Brown, his attacks on slavery as a prelude to the Civil War, and the attempt to find his hideout and stop his violent campaign.
Savannah2013Loosely based on the book Ducks, Dogs and Friends, the film is about a white hunter who befriends a freed slave.[7]
Seven Angry Men1955Follows John Brown's campaign to end slavery and his raid on Harper's Ferry.
The Slave Hunters2010Slave hunter goes after an escaped General-turned-slave in this South Korean 24-episode television series.
Slaves1969Follows the life of two slaves in the American South of the 1850s.
Solomon Northup's Odyssey1984The film is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, DC in 1841 and sold into slavery.[13]
Spartacus1960 & 2004In Spartacus, a film that stays close to the historical record,[14] a Thracian enslaved as a gladiator by the Roman Republic leads a slave revolt that engulfs much of the Italian peninsula.
Tamango1958A slave ship crosses the Atlantic, and the slaves rebel. A film by Hollywood blacklisted director John Berry starring Dorothy Dandridge and Curd Jürgens.
The Ten Commandments1923 & 1956Biblical story of the life of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who becomes the deliverer of his real brethren, the enslaved Hebrews.
Tula: The Revolt2013In 1795 on Curaçao, then a Dutch colony, a slave uprising takes place.[7]
The Viking1928Lord Alwin is captured in a Viking raid and taken to Norway as a slave.[15]
Unchained Memories2003An HBO documentary featuring the stories of former slaves interviewed during the 1930s as part of the Federal Writers' Project. It compiles slave narratives which are narrated by actors emulating the original conversation with the interviewer.
Uncle Tom's Cabin1903Many film adaptations of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel have been made, nine from the silent era (including those of 1910, 1918, and 1927), and a German version in 1965.
A Woman Called Moses1978A film about the life and career of the African American abolitionist and slave escape leader, Harriet Tubman.
A Woman Captured2017A documentary about a woman who is kept as domestic slave in Europe.[16][17]
Zama2017The film is set in the late 18th century in a remote South American colony under the Spanish Empire, and portrays the period's "naturalness of slavery".[18]

See also


  1. Michael T. Martin and David C. Wall, "The Politics of Cine-Memory: Signifying Slavery in the History Film," in Robert A. Rosenstone and Constantin Parvulesu, eds. A Companion to the Historical Film (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), p67.
  2. Melvyn Stokes, D.W. Griffith's the Birth of a Nation: A History of the Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time (2008)
  3. Robert E. Morsberger, "Slavery and 'The Santa Fe Trail,' or, John Brown on Hollywood's Sour Apple Tree," American Studies (1977) 18#2 pp. 87–98. online
  4. Hernán Vera; Andrew M. Gordon (2003). Screen saviors: Hollywood fictions of whiteness. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 54–56. ISBN 9780847699476.
  5. Jarus, Owen (17 September 2013). "Spartacus: History of Gladiator Revolt Leader". LiveScience. Purch. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  6. Natalie Zemon Davis, Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision (2002) ch 2
  7. Samuel, Allison (March 15, 2013). "How 2013 Became the Year of the Slavery Film". The Daily Beast. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  8. Staff (2012). "12 Films That Dared to Tackle Slavery". The Root. Retrieved July 17, 2013.
  9. "Top Grosses of 1957". Variety. January 8, 1958.
  10. Serafino, Jason (June 4, 2013). "5 Movies Influenced By Scientology". Complex. Retrieved 2016-01-13.
  11. Berson, Misha (April 23, 2000). "'Enslavement' takes some liberties with abolitionist Fanny Kemble's tale". The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  12. Kronke, David (April 21, 2000). "Hysterical drama of historical figure". Los Angeles Daily News. MediaNews Group. Retrieved October 7, 2013.
  13. Corry, John (February 13, 1985). "TV Review; 'Solomon Northrup's Odyssey,' Story of a Slave". The New York Times.
  14. Davis, Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision (2002) ch 3
  15. "The Viking (1928)". IMDB.
  16. Phillips, Charlie (9 June 2018). "A Woman Captured review – brave and up-close story of modern slavery". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  17. Lodge, Guy (14 January 2018). "Film Review: 'A Woman Captured'". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved 25 December 2018.
  18. Koza, Roger (September 24, 2017). "El arte de la espera: esta semana se estrena "Zama", de Lucrecia Martel". La Voz del Interior (in Spanish). Retrieved November 19, 2017.

<note name = "while ... black"> OK, i am disqualifyying myself from doing more about this than drawing attn to it and offering a possible draft for the change. I won't complain if someone thinks i'm a "white phony liberal", but i note my objection to the language i found in one of the entries, along the lines of " marrying a white woman while possibly black". IMO, the phrase "driving [or whatever] while black" is a well established term regarding oppression, and adapting it in the context of describing the film in question is too ambiguous between mockery of the rerm, and an unfamiliar extension of its use in labelling oppression, to be acceptable in an article. Discuss, please, and reword unless i'm mistaken.</ref>

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