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This January marked the release of CBC’s six-part mini-series adaptation of Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes. Fans of the book will attest that the novel set a high bar, and the show does an admirable job of striving towards it. When Hill, who lives in Hamilton, released the novel in 2007, it caused a ripple of shock. With a bold and well-researched take on the slave trade, Hill brought to life a part of the past that is not often talked about. While in no way an easy watch, the show captures Hill’s tale onscreen.

The show picks up where the book begins, with an aged Aminata Diallo recounting her life story in front of the English Parliament. She starts with her childhood in Bayo, Africa. As she speaks, the scene switches, matching her words. Her relationship with her parents is laid out beautifully, only for it to be torn at the seams moments later. Sold into slavery at 11 years old, Aminata is tied to a coffle of other village members, loaded onto a ship and made to endure a horrific crossing into what would become her new life as a slave. From this point on, the show is trademarked by heartbreak. While fans of the book may be surprised that the most graphic of details have been subdued, it is inevitable that many scenes will still make viewers cringe. The epitome of human cruelty is not an easy sight to witness, even more so when the recipient is an unsuspecting child.

The show jumps into the middle of the action without hesitation. The resulting momentum might leave the most faint of watchers with whiplash. Cinematically, choppy segmentation and brief scenes characterize the beginning of the show but it becomes more seamless with time as it settles into a more comfortable rhythm.

Central to the story is setting, and the show’s cinematography does it justice. Scenes of fog rising from the jungle floor and stretches of pale sand on blue sky are breathtaking, juxtaposing the horrid scenes that characterize the plot.

The opposite of lighthearted, The Book of Negroes is bound to turn stomachs and weigh down hearts. Even harder to swallow is the acknowledgment that the tales of human enslavement are not fiction, but a part of the past. In one particular scene, Aminata describes the moment when the people in her village began to “slip away like the moon behind the clouds. Only unlike the moon, the villagers didn’t come back.” The Book of Negroes allows viewers to follow Aminata as she too slips behind the clouds, and into the open arms of the slave trade.

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