From Captives to Community
In Descendant, Kern Jackson MA’91 documents the discovery of the last illegal slave ship and the people who never forgot it.
The last known illegal slave ship, the Clotilda, reached the shores of present-day Mobile, Alabama, almost 40 years after African slave trading became a capital offense in the United States. The ship was intentionally destroyed upon its arrival — its remnants were only discovered in 2019 — but its legacy lives on in Africatown, a community founded by descendants of the enslaved Africans aboard the ship.
In Descendant (2022), cowriter and coproducer Kern Jackson MA’91 shares the stories that have kept the Clotilda’s memory alive among the residents of Africatown. According to the Hollywood Reporter, while the documentary is not the first account of the Clotilda, it is among the most intimate, thanks to the rare footage, interviews, and images provided in part by Jackson, a folklorist and director of the African American studies program at the University of South Alabama.
“All of our ancestors are helping to reveal this narrative of resilience,” Jackson says. “As a folklorist, my preoccupation is with the nuances. The nooks and crannies of culture are my inspiration for the historical truths and perspectives brought to this film.”
Descendant premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and won a U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for creative vision. The film is a Netflix original presented by Participant and Higher Ground, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, in association with Two One Five Entertainment.
Published in the Fall 2022 issue