Courtney B. Vance is opening up about his riveting new docuseries, “One Thousand Years of Slavery”, which premieres during Black History Month.
The Emmy-winning actor and wife Angela Bassett teamed up as executive producers on the the four-part limited series exploring the legacy of slavery.
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“When the project was brought to us we looked and realized there was no African American folks involved,” recalls Vance, who lends his voice as the show’s narrator. “We thought we could bring that value to it so it would truly be an international global situation discussing slavery as a worldwide phenomenon.”
The series uncovers the truth of a 1,000-year story of slavery around the world, as stars such as Debbie Allen and Dulé Hill, among others, go on journeys to confront their personal connection to slavery and its lasting impact today.
“It was very emotional for anybody to witness,” admitted Vance. “My wife and I were blessed enough to do ‘Finding Your Roots’, and it’s a very emotional thing to see your family’s journey in both positive and negative ways. Many Black folks and slaves all over the world killed themselves, but the vast majority of slaves survived and thrived and found all kinds of ways to sabotage and survive and still found joy in their long days.”
The series reframes history by exploring the different ways in which many slaves fought back and rebelled against their oppressors, including the Amistad Case.
“If you enslave anybody they’re going to rebel,” notes Vance. “Rebel or you die. There’s all that silly dialogue about slaves wanting to be slaves – they didn’t want to be no slaves! White folks gave so much trust to slaves, they let them nurse their babies, raise their children, cook their food and be their counsellors. Our ancestors, God bless them, they could have poisoned the whole house, but they didn’t. Rebellion is just how we survived until we could find a moment to escape. It’s human nature to find a way to get out. Who wants to be a slave?”
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“Everyone needs to see this,” Vance explained. “Young people need to discuss it. Slavery was initially all over this world and it was as prevalent as our iPhones and our computers. We can’t pretend like our heroes didn’t do it. Thomas Jefferson had 600 slaves, George Washington had 100 slaves that he didn’t release until after his wife died. They were all great men who did great things but they were men of their time. Let’s just look at it without taking away from what they did.”
Vance also spoke about the talented Black artists and creators who are blazing a trail in Hollywood right now. “If you’re working in this industry with some regularity you’re blazing a trail,” he said. “I’m just grateful to see these wonderful projects about the diaspora. I want to know more and I want to see stories about our country and about our world and to not hide it under a rug. Bring it out, let us talk about it and let us see the wonderfulness that is us as a people.”
On the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, Vance added, “The fact that we had to say ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a problem because it should matter anyway. So many Black young people are being killed and that’s a problem. If it was white young women and men being killed by police it would be dealt with.”
In “One Thousand Years of Slavery,” I share some of my thoughts. Slavery is not the start, nor the end, of us. Premiering tonight and airing every Monday in February at 8pm ET/PT on @SmithsonianChan in the US and Canada. #1000YearsOfSlavery pic.twitter.com/thBy3djmyS
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) February 7, 2022
“One Thousand Years of Slavery” premieres on Monday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel during the channel’s nationwide free preview event.