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10 Movies About Emancipation

Now is a good time to reflect on how movies about emancipation and Slavery have been used to tell different parts of the story of America. From Birth of a Nation to The Help, movies have often been vehicles for examining race and prejudice in America.

But they also provide a window into what life was like for freed people and their descendants. Here are 10 movies about emancipation.

Movies About Emancipation

Lincoln
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn (Actors)

Lincoln

Daniel Day Lewis is spectacular in an Oscar(R)-winning performance as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s film about the 16th President. 

Abe Lincoln in Illinois
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Raymond Massey, Gene Lockhart, Ruth Gordon (Actors)

Abe Lincoln in Illinois

A young Abraham Lincoln (Raymond Massey) leaves his home in Kentucky in the early 1830s to study law and make a name for himself. Abe meets Ann Rutledge (Ruth Gordon) in the sleepy hamlet of New Salem, Illinois, while traveling to New Orleans to deliver several pigs he raised with his father.
 
Abe returns to town, starts a business, and marries Ann before gradually working his way into politics and the fateful future that will see him become one of America's most recognizable presidents.
The Birth Of a Nation
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Mark Boone Jr. (Actors)

The Birth of a Nation

Set against the antebellum South, THE BIRTH OF A NATION follows the story of Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher (Nate Parker), who leads a fierce rebellion against slavery.
The Horse Soldiers
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • John Wayne, William Holden, Hoot Gibson (Actors)

The Horse Soldiers

John Wayne, Constance Towers, and William Holden star in this 1863, fact-based story about a Union mission to destroy a railroad junction deep within Confederate territory.
Roots: The Complete Miniseries
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • LeVar Burton, Cicely Tyson, Edward Asner (Actors)

Roots

His name was Kunta Kinte. Kidnapped from Africa and enslaved in America, he refused to accept his slave name of Toby. Heirs kept his heroic defiance alive, whispering his name Kunta Kinte.
I Am Not Your Negro
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Samuel L. Jackson, James Baldwin, Dick Cavett (Actors)

I Am Not Your Negro

With unprecedented access to James Baldwin’s original work, Raoul Peck completed a documentary film version of the novel Baldwin never finished—a radical narration about race in America that tracks the lives and assassinations of Baldwin’s friends Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers.
Amazing Grace
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Ioan Gruffudd, Romola Garai, Albert Finney (Actors)

Amazing Grace

Barbara Spooner and Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce fall in love amidst the political background of abolishing the slave trade in England.
A Woman Called Moses
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Orson Welles, Cicely Tyson, John Getz (Actors)

A Woman Called Moses

A Woman Called Moses stars Cicely Tyson as real-life escaped slave Harriet Tubman. At the risk of recapture, Tubman helped organize the Underground Railroad, which enabled hundreds of enslaved African Americans to make their way to the freedom of the North.
 
Adding to the tension are Harriet's frequent epileptic fainting spells. Orson Welles narrates this adaptation of Marcy Heidish's novel.

To continue learning, check out the Harriet Movie Study.

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Quilombo
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Bené Batista, Jonas Bloch, Zózimo Bulbul (Actors)

Quilombo

This historical saga is a stirring fusion of folklore, political impact, and dynamic story-telling, realized in vibrant tropical colors and set to the pulsing beat of Gilberto Gil's musical score. After the slave revolt of 1641, groups of enslaved black Brazilians escaped to mountainous jungle strongholds where they formed self-governing communities.

Slaves

Luke is the loyal slave of a Kentucky horse breeder who is sold to the cruel Mississippi plantation owner MacKay. The evil slave owner has the black beauty, Cassie, as his mistress, who longs to escape the clutch of her master.
Solomon Northup's Odyssey
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Avery Brooks, Rhetta Greene, Art Evans (Actors)

Solomon Northup's Odyssey

Solomon Northup was a black man in the mid-19th century who was born a freeman and worked as a carpenter and part-time musician. Approached to play for a group of men, he is kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Based on the autobiography 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and the first filmed version of his story.

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