This week, BET premieres its first miniseries “The Book of Negroes,” a six-part historical drama based on Lawrence Hill’s acclaimed and best-selling novel of the same name. The miniseries event premiered on Monday and will wrap tonight, Feb. 18, starting at 8 p.m.
“The Book of Negroes” is unique because it’s based on one woman’s extraordinary life. Aminata Diallo, played by actress Aunjanue Ellis, is kidnapped by slave traders in West Africa, enslaved in South Carolina and ultimately through a series of journeys works for the British as the chronicler for of The Book of Negroes. This book is a historical record used to register thousands of black loyalists who aided the British during the war in exchange for emigration to Nova Scotia. Diallo accounted for the stories of thousands (names, ages, where they were born and personal accounts) into a book that still exists today in two volumes. One volume is housed in the United Kingdom and the other is at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
In a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “The Book of Negroes” author Lawrence Hill shares the history behind the title of his book and the mini-series:
“The name of the book in Canada and in most countries where English is spoken is ‘The Book of Negroes.’ In the United States, Australia and New Zealand the title was changed and it became ‘Someone Knows My Name’ which is in part a hats off to the American writer James Baldwin who wrote the book ‘Nobody Knows my Name’ but also it’s a hats off to the notion of naming and of course one of the first ways to strip a person of their humanity is to refuse to recognize their name or refuse to say their name or refuse to allow them to use their name. That’s exactly what happened to the millions of Africans that were brought into captivity in the Americas.”
There are powerful and inspiring film accounts of slavery in the United States, yet Aminata Diallo’s story is relatively unknown by many. It’s almost thirty seven years after the epic saga “Roots” captivated audiences and now “The Book of Negroes” in that tradition hopes to re-imagine the book to reveal these emotional stories of resilience in our history. The all-star cast includes: Aunjanue Ellis (Ray, The Help), Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire), Oscar and Emmy winner Louis Gossett Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman, Roots), Lyriq Bent (Rookie Blue), Oscar nominee Jane Alexander (The Cider House Rules), Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line) and Allan Hawco (Republic of Doyle). Together this ensemble cast delivers a powerful performance bringing an epic chapter of history to life for a new generation of audiences.