Tuesday, 20 March 2012


Goodbye Uncle Tom was first recommended to me several years ago by a well known and highly respected elder figure in British Black radical politics, culture and the arts. When looking through a Jamaican brothers market stall selling pirated DVDs in Elephant and Castle, I picked up a few black radical films including excellent English made film in 1981 - Babylon, a documentary on Marcus Garvey and I saw a copy of Goodbye Uncle Tom so I picked it up and looked forward to watching it.

I had no idea it would be such hard viewing, but having watched a fair amount of video clips that show the deeply violent and traumatic side of life and death due to my anti-imperialist commitment, I got through the whole film without stopping, and the film got me thinking intensely as the scenes unfolded.

Watching it wasn't easy, and subsequently having researched more about the film I have found that opinions are sharply divided. Some people who support Black Liberation consider it a very distasteful film, others in the same communities consider it one of the most hard hitting exposes of slavery and white supremacy ever made. We are all adults (its not suitable viewing for children!) and we can make up our own minds.

People are free to not like this film, and I apologise to anyone who feels incensed that I am saying anything beyond rubbishing the film totally. 

What the western world have done to Africa is something which is seldom really explored beyond some white-washed stingy words about the horrors of slavery, but never really going into the actual issue and the way it directly pertains to western domination of the world today. To give Goodbye a little credit, it addresses many of the deeply troubling aspects of slavery, and also doesn't shy away of exploring the ways in which slavery caused havoc between slaves themselves as a result of the brutal divide and rule tactics of the slave masters. 

One online review I have read thought of the film as very distasteful, and one in which despite the aims of the filmmakers to expose and attack racism, the critic thought that the film re-enforced certain racist ideas, nevertheless, this critic also went on to make the following points with which I concur: "I'd say that Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will are much dodgier productions, yet they can still easily be found in stores and are studied in film classes. Goodbye, Uncle Tom is one of the most incendiary pieces of filmmaking I've ever seen, and yet it's been rarely seen since its debut in the early 70s. The movie may be tacky and offensive, but it will provoke a lot more discussion than almost any other movie you've seen.  ... it is definitely worth your time to watch it. I don't think it's possible for anyone to actually enjoy the movie, but I guarantee it will be an unforgettable experience."

There is one scene which particularly troubled me, not because of what it was trying to convey, which was fine. The issue I had was that I was not sure what the deal was with those in charge of production and how they dealt with a situation whereby I hear (it might not be true) they went to Haiti and used many Haitian people for a scene whereby slave masters 'test the physique' of very young slave girls. I would like to know more about what exactly was the relationship with these Haitian sisters and the filmmakers.

It is difficult to go beyond the emotions the film evokes in oneself, but if one can go beyond the emotion and try and engage with the film as an piece of filmic art and political commentary that is trying to convey issues about slavery, then this film could be very good material for interesting critical discussions. 

Issues of white supremacy are difficult issues to engage with for most of us, as they raise uncomfortable issues about our problematic interactions as humans who subconsciously or not live out the impact of white supremacy on our daily lives and social relations. No forthright discussion is going to be easy on the issue, but discuss the issue we must as white supremacy and empire is the two-headed beast which has and is causing the greatest negativity and trauma in the world.

You are not going to enjoy this film in any way shape or form, but dealing with the issues of war, exploitation and greed will do nothing for you but might help you understand these things that little bit more, and in so doing might give the viewer a little more material in the process for liberating ourselves from these oppressions. 

Frankly, maybe there needs to be more films that deal square-on with these issues don't leave us with a nice warm feeling that 'everything was alright then in the end', but to shake us up, face the disgusting nature of these historical facts and address the ways in which we should fight the on-going role and legacy of slavery today. 

Sukant Chandan, Sons of Malcolm

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