Descendant tells the story of the Clotilda – the last known ship to smuggle stolen Africans to America
In 1860, 110 people were taken from their country of Dahomey (now known as Benin), West Africa and transported to the shores of Mobile, Alabama on The Clotilda, more than 50 years after the international slave trade was abolished and considered a crime punishable by death. Upon arrival, the ship’s owner Timothy Meaher set The Clotilda on fire and sunk it, in hopes the ship would never be discovered and his crime would be forgotten. For more than a century, residents of Africatown, a small community of descendants of those on The Clotilda, have lived knowing the ship that carried their ancestors was buried just offshore.
In 2017, Amir ‘Questlove‘ Thompson was notified that his West African lineage was from Benin on the PBS TV series Finding Your Roots, hosted by Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It was during the program’s extensive DNA research and genealogical reveal that Thompson learned the story of The Clotilda, how its inhabitants came to America and the name of his family.
Then in 2018 documentarian Margaret Brown (The Order of Myths, The Great Invisible) was sent an article about the Clotilda had been found in Alabama’s Mobile River. It was then that Brown made the decision to return to her hometown of Mobile, Alabama to document the search for and historic discovery of The Clotilda, the last known ship to arrive in the United States, illegally carrying enslaved Africans.
After a century of secrecy and speculation, the 2019 discovery of the ship turns attention toward the descendant community of Africatown Descendant presents a moving portrait of a community actively grappling with and fighting to preserve their heritage while examining what justice looks like today.
A special jury prize winner at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Descendant is a Higher Ground and Night Tide production, in association with Two One Five Entertainment.
Descendant comes to Netflix October 21st