Why does Hollywood hide reality of history of slavery?

Pirates book plate 1725

Justice for pirates in colonial times; illustration from the book ‘The History and Lives of All the Most Norotrious Pirates, and their Crews.’ (LOC: London, 1725)

Hollywood routinely churns out films about slavery in the U.S., but there’s a question some inquiring mind should ask. Why does Hollywood hide the reality of the history of slavery?

On Friday, when I did my call-in to The Cindy Graves Show (WBOB 600 AM), a Democrat called in to ask me what I thought about Nelson Mandela. In so many words, I told him Mandela was a man who changed history in his country and for that reason, warrants the attention his death has drawn.

However, I explained that I also believed a larger conversation about slavery should be held.

Slavery didn’t begin in the U.S or for that matter, in Europe either. Bondage is as old as mankind and the real outrage is that it still occurs today in some countries. Slavery wasn’t confined to a single race or faith, either. People of every race at some point in history have been captured and enslaved.

Dr.Akosua Perbi,  as Fulbright-Scholar-in-Residence at Manchester College in Indiana, U.S.A., wrote a history of slavery , Slavery and the Slave Trade in pre-Colonial Africa. [2001] Perbi cited another scholar, Orlando Patterson:

“There is nothing notably peculiar about the institution of slavery. It has existed from before the dawn of human history right down to the twentieth century, in the most primitive of human societies and in the most civilized. There is no region on earth that has not at some time harbored the institution. Probably there is no group of people whose ancestors were not at one time slaves or slave holders. Slavery was firmly established in all the great early centres of human civilization (Slavery and Social Death-A Comparative Study, U.S.A. 1982, p. vii).”

The British Broadcasting Corporation recounts a brief history of the Barbary slaves taken by pirates in the first half of the 1600s:

In the first half of the 1600s, Barbary corsairs – pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa, authorised by their governments to attack the shipping of Christian countries – ranged all around Britain’s shores. In their lanteen-rigged xebecs (a type of ship) and oared galleys, they grabbed ships and sailors, and sold the sailors into slavery. Admiralty records show that during this time the corsairs plundered British shipping pretty much at will, taking no fewer than 466 vessels between 1609 and 1616, and 27 more vessels from near Plymouth in 1625.

As a matter of fact, Islam gained many converts by this practice.

The BBC is one of the only media companies to point out that slavery actually expanded in some countries even as the slave trade in countries like the U.S. ended:

“It’s ironic that when the Atlantic slave trade was abolished the Eastern trade expanded, suggesting that for some Africans the abolition of the Atlantic trade didn’t lead to freedom, but merely changed their slave destination.”

An article by Clare Lopez analyzes modern day slavery, pointing out fundamentalists in Islamist countries who believe slavery is perfectly acceptable because the Muslim holy book permits it. Lopez wrote about some clerics’ endorsement of slavery in modern times, adding:

“Even more astonishing was the June 2011 suggestion from Salwa al Mutairi, a Kuwaiti woman who once ran for parliament, that sex slavery ought to be legalized and that non-Muslim prisoners from war-torn countries would make ideal, Qur’an-approved concubines for Kuwaiti men seeking to avoid technical adultery. Once again citing sharia as well as historical precedent and the advice of Saudi religious authorities whom she consulted on a trip to Mecca, Mutairi recommended the purchase of sex slaves as the ideal, sharia-compliant solution for Kuwaiti men who don’t want to be tempted into ‘immoral behavior.’”

What sets the U.S. apart from numerous other countries on the matter of slavery?

As a people, we have endeavored to pay for the sins of our past, even those of us who did not directly benefit from slavery, through programs like affirmative action, aggressive redistribution of wealth, and cultural awareness in our educational system.

Unfortunately our public educational curricula too often inform students as though blacks in the U.S. were the only people in history to ever be held as slaves. Even as some courses teach that wonders like the pyramids were erected with slave labor, the material omits the matter of slaves’ faith or race.

Why does Hollywood ignore the issue of slavery as an aspect of the human condition? Why do films focus on one narrow path history took for what amounts to a brief time when the full gamut of history is considered?

And why, considering the Left’s penchant to set themselves up as freedom advocates for women, do “progressives” ignore the plight of women today in repressed countries? Perhaps next time Oprah, one of the wealthiest women in Hollywood, leaps on a sophistic soapbox to claim racial discrimination, some curious reporter might ask her if she’s concerned about her sisters in Africa today. And perhaps ask about the impact of slavery practiced in Africa before colonial times.

Finally, will countries in the Mideast and North Africa make reparations for slavery and change doctrine to eradicate the bondage of women today? Is that a conversation we should have?

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Dec. 9, 2013)

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About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.
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