Actress Aunjanue Ellis as Aminata Diallo and Cuba Gooding, Jr as Sam Fraunces. BET Photo

Actress Aunjanue Ellis as Aminata Diallo and Cuba Gooding, Jr as Sam Fraunces. BET Photo

Good news! The compelling 2007 novel, Someone Knows My Name by Canadian author Lawrence Hill—released in Canada under the title, The Book of Negroes—has been adapted for American TV and will air next month as a miniseries on BET.

I read the book two years ago. I’m still enthralled by the story Hill wove around his character Aminata Diallo, kidnapped from Africa at age 11 and enslaved in 19th century South Carolina. What unfolds is a splendid mix of history and imagination.

I’m willing to bet a fair amount of you are not familiar with Black Entertainment Television (BET)—a parallel universe flourishing in the galaxy of cable and satellite broadcasting— I found it in the 300s on Direct TV. I urge you to find it, too, and watch The Book of Negroes, scheduled to air February 16, 17 & 18.

 

The series is named after The Book of Negroes, an actual document which you can see at the New York Public Library. It is a 150-page ledger compiled by the British navy in 1783 during the Revolutionary War: names of 3,000 enslaved blacks recruited by the British when they were loosing the war and evacuated by ship to Nova Scotia as freedmen.  According to Lawrence Hill, it was the first time in the US or Canada that thousands of blacks were formerly documented by a public body. Unlike dehumanizing slave holding documents—which list no names and include columns for blind, deaf, dumb, insane and idiotic—this ledger lists names, ages and physical descriptions. An extremely important American document.

Screen shot 2015-01-19 at 12.03.54 PM SomeoneKnows

While I personally do not find it offensive, it’s no surprise that the use of the word “negroes” in the title is controversial. Here’s what Hill says~

“I used The Book of Negroes as the title for my novel, in Canada, because it derives from a historical document of the same name kept by British naval officers at the tail end of the American Revolutionary War. It documents the 3,000 blacks who had served the King in the war and were fleeing Manhattan for Canada in 1783. Unless you were in The Book of Negroes, you couldn’t escape to Canada. My character, an African woman named Aminata Diallo whose story is based on this history, has to get into the book before she gets out. In my country, few people have complained to me about the title, and nobody continues to do so after I explain its historical origins. I think it’s partly because the word ‘Negro’ resonates differently in Canada. If you use it in Toronto or Montreal, you are probably just indicating publicly that you are out of touch with how people speak these days. But if you use it in Brooklyn or Boston, you are asking to have your nose broken. When I began touring with the novel in some of the major US cities, literary African-Americans kept approaching me and telling me it was a good thing indeed that the title had changed, because they would never have touched the book with its Canadian title.” ~ Lawrence Hill, from Wikipedia

SEE/READ MORE:

BET: http://bon.bet.com/desktop/phase1/index.html#0

Video Clips with Lawerence Hill & Others:http://www.bet.com/video/the-book-of-negroes/2014/exclusives/what-is-the-book-of-negroes.html

Huff Post Black Voices: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/15/the-book-of-negroes-miniseries-premiere-bet-february_n_5991466.html

BET Press: http://betpressroom.com/shows/the_book_of_negroes.html