Political Film Society - Newsletter #274 - March 15, 2007

March 15, 2007


Amazing GraceAmazing Grace, directed by Michael Apted, is a biopic of William Wilberforce (played by Ioan Gruffodd), who sought to abolish slavery in his role as a member of parliament on moral grounds. In so doing, he was opposed by British businesses that made immense profits from the slave trade. Accordingly, the movie focuses on his political maneuvering to obtain a parliamentary majority to abolish the slave trade, despite his chronic colitis. The movie gives particular credit to his friends Henry and Marianne Thornton (played by Nicholas Farrell and Sylvestra Le Touzel) as well as his admirer and, later, wife Barbara Spooner (played by Romola Garai) for providing moral support. Not mentioned in the film are other influences on Wilberforce: (1) John Calvin’s outspoken opposition, (2) a publication by Granville Clark, and (3) Clark’s support in Somersett v Knowles (1772) that freed a slave from Virginia who managed to escape to England. Instead, the focus is on pressures exerted on fellow parliamentarians in several forms: (1) the personal influence of Thomas Clarkson (played by Rufus Sewell), who with Clark formed the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, (2) the Society’s efforts to collect some 300,000 signatures on a petition, the first example of mass-based political action in British history, (3) Clarkson’s visit to British colonies in the Caribbean in which he interviewed some 20,000 sailors, secured physical evidence in the form of handcuffs, leg-shackles, thumb screws, instruments for forcing open slave's jaws, and branding irons, and then published A Summary View of the Slave Trade and of the Probable Consequences of Its Abolition (1787), (4) the example of the American constitution, also written in 1787, which abolished the slave trade as of 1808, (5) France’s abolition of the slave trade in 1794, (6) Wilberforce’s friend, fellow parliamentarian and prime minister William Pitt (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), who allowed the proposed abolition to be introduced into parliament year after year, beginning in 1791, (7) the eloquence of fellow parliamentarians Lord Charles Fox (played by Michael Gambon) and John Newton (played by Albert Finney), (8) a 1789 biography by prominent freed slave Oloudah Equiano (played by Youssou N'Dour), (9) the slave revolt in Haiti in 1790, (10) citing statistics as the fact that one-third of those transported from Africa died en route, and (11) a stealthy parliamentary maneuver authorizing privateers to stop French slave ships flying American neutral flags, which cut off 80 percent of the slave trade while Britain was at war with Napoleonic France. In 1807, parliament finally obliged, passing the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. In 1833, one month after Wilberforce’s death, parliament abolished slavery in all British colonies. The Political Film Society has nominated Amazing Grace as best film in 2007 on the desirability of democracy as well as to honor a hero in the struggle for human rights. MH

What is life in Bosnia like today? That Bosniaks find difficulties in their daily lives is an understated answer to the question, as portrayed in Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams, directed by Jasmila Žbanić. The focus in the movie is on Esma (played by Mirjana Karanović) and her twelve-year-old daughter Sara (played by Luna Mijović), who live in Sarajevo. Although Esma tells Sara that her father was a war hero, fighting for the Moslems of Bosnia, filmviewers will be confronted with clues as the story progresses that Sara’s birthfather is a Serb who raped Esma in a prisoner-of-war camp. At one point the leader of a group therapy session for Bosniak women suggests that psychological healing requires those traumatized to talk about their pain; the interaction between Esma and Sara then demonstrate the validity of the suggestion. The film demonstrates at least eight important elements of life in Bosnia today: (1) Jobs are scarce, as employment opportunities are limited due to the lack of infrastructure and investment. (2) Because of the war, there are more females than males, and the widows remain traumatized. (3) Due to slow driblets of monthly welfare payments to single mothers, there is insufficient food on the table. (4) The elderly encourage the youth to dream of a better life even though there is no sign of improvement. (5) Nevertheless, the youth feel insecure. (6) From time to time, mass graves are being discovered. (7) Some Bosniaks go to mass graves as they are unearthed until they find their loved ones. (8) There are more benefits for families with Moslem fathers than for non-Moslem fathers; indeed, the school that Sara attends offers a free field trip to those who can prove that their fathers are war heroes, but Esma can neither afford to pay for the field trip nor produce documentary proof that Sara’s father is a war hero. Lacking cinematography of the beautiful Bosnia countryside, Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams suggests that Bosnia is not a happy place for a summer vacation. MH