Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson Jackson on ‘Enslaved,’ Choosing Projects During COVID
Samuel L. Jackson's documentaries "Enslaved" were in full swing long before the resurgence of the global Black Lives Matter movement, but he admits the project assumed an urgency he was not fully prepared for.
“It was a coincidence that it came out at that particular time. It wasn't a plan, ”says Jackson.
The "Avengers" star has narrated documentaries, from Ken Burns' "The War" to Disney Nature's "African Cats", but only creatively with "Enslaved", which he produced with his wife, actor LaTanya Richardson Jackson took part.
The six-part documentary, which premiered on September 14th on Cabler Epix and is distributed worldwide by Fremantle, examine 400 years of slave trade from Africa to the New World and lead the actor back to his ancestral roots in Gabon, West Africa. Elsewhere, a dynamic group of divers hunt for sunken slave ships while British author Afua Hirsch and Israeli-Canadian journalist Simcha Jacobovici provide a historical analysis of the transatlantic slave trade.
How did you come to “Enslaved”?
Jackson: [Producer-Director] Simcha came up with the idea for my manager [Eli Selden from Anonymous Content]. They had identified five different shipwrecks from the transatlantic slave trade and wanted to tell the story of the ships that people never talk about.
Richardson Jackson: Since we're interested in producing [through the UppiTV production company], we were interested in projects that were relevant, interesting, and enjoyable. So we thought Sam tracing his ancestry was the way to get involved.
Over 12 million Africans were sold into slavery and at least 10% died along the way. Why has this perspective not been sensibly taken up so far?
Jackson: I don't know anyone followed the money that way. But that was a business so let's get the business of everything. There have been famous sunken ships lawsuits in which the people who hired the ships tried to sue the insurance companies in order to get paid for the cargo. These cases allowed us to have another entry point to find out what was going on during that time.
Given the Black Lives Matter movement, is the audience more receptive to this type of story?
Jackson: I'm not sure. We're so polarized that some people love the fact that they're seeing this very different explanation of human trafficking that they haven't seen. [But] there are many people who say they have seen enough of it and are fed up with it.
Richardson Jackson: Personally, I think it's timely. People were looking for answers and “Enslaved” provides a picture of forced migration to this country.
With this year's events, do you feel compelled to work on more projects like this one that try to provide answers?
Jackson: I always hope I find things that are interesting to me and that will be interesting to others - not just for the kind of films I make because I generally just enjoy them - but when we do projects Finding Like This To put our weight behind, we do our best to enter a room with believable people, where what we say resonates in a way that allows everyone to be on this side of the story are located.
What else can we expect from your production plan?
Richardson Jackson: We have so many books.
Jackson: And we have to find authors for these books. I have a Walter Mosley book that I've been trying for a while, and it looks like it's about to be finished.
How do you manage COVID-19 and its impact on manufacturing? Are you taking on any work?
Richardson Jackson: I've had to give up several jobs because I'm too scared to leave. I was supposed to do "Pose" and was asked to do "The Conners". I've come to terms with California.
Jackson: I keep refusing because I want to say, "No, I don't want to come to this town because it's a hotspot." The COVID logs all sound so strange, and when people talk about them they say, "That doesn't sound safe." And we're both in the age group people get it at.
Richardson Jackson: [Producers] said very kindly, "We will miss you."
Jackson: And we say, I'll miss you too, but if I have to do a voice-over, I'll be here. "I found out how to do that in the living room. We did it.
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