Fiche Film
Cinéma/TV
LONG Métrage | 2007
Prince among Slaves
Pays concerné : États-Unis
Durée : 60 minutes
Genre : historique
Type : docu-fiction

Français

1788. Le bateau négrier Africa vogue sur le fleuve Gambie avec à son bord des centaines d’hommes, de femmes et d’enfants enchaînés à fond de cale. Huit mois plus tard, les survivants se retrouvent vendus à Natchez, Mississippi. Parmi eux, un jeune homme de 26 ans appelé Abdul Rahman Ibrahima interpelle Thomas Foster, le propriétaire de la plantation qui enchérit sur lui : en tant que prince african prince, instruit et héritier d’un royaume son père serait prêt à racheter son retour avec de l’or. Foster considère ses propos comme un tissu de mensonges.

D’après l’histoire vraie d’un prince musulman peul, fils de l’Almamy Ibrahima Sori (Fouta Djallon).

English

1788. The slave ship Africa set sail from the Gambia River, its hold laden with a profitable but highly perishable cargo-hundreds of men, women and children bound in chains-headed for American shores. Eight months later, a handful of survivors found themselves for sale in Natchez, Mississippi. On the slave auction block, one of them, a 26-year-old male named Abdul Rahman Ibrahima made an astonishing claim to Thomas Foster, the plantation owner who purchased him at auction: As an African prince, highly educated and heir to a kingdom, this bedraggled African’s father would gladly pay gold for his return. Foster dismissed the claim as a tissue of lies.

Full synopsis
1788. The slave ship Africa set sail from the Gambia River, its hold laden with a profitable but highly perishable cargo-hundreds of men, women and children bound in chains-headed for American shores. Eight months later, a handful of survivors found themselves for sale in Natchez, Mississippi. On the slave auction block, one of them, a 26-year-old male named Abdul Rahman Ibrahima made an astonishing claim to Thomas Foster, the plantation owner who purchased him at auction: As an African prince, highly educated and heir to a kingdom, this bedraggled African’s father would gladly pay gold for his return. Foster dismissed the claim as a tissue of lies.

Abdul Rahman, trilingual, a successful military general and true heir to a West African nation the size of Great Britain, did not return to Africa for 40 years. In that time he toiled on Foster’s plantation to make his owner rich. He married a fellow slave, Isabella, and they had nine children. Gradually, he also became the most famous African in America, attracting the support of such powerful men as President John Quincy Adams and Secretary of State Henry Clay.

Later in life, he and Isabella traveled widely throughout the northern states, where Abdul Rahman addressed huge audiences of fascinated whites, early Abolitionists including Francis Scott Key and Thomas Gallaudet, and sympathetic Free Blacks in an attempt to raise enough money to buy his children out of slavery. A hero snared in a tragedy for four decades, he returned to Africa at the age 67, only to fall ill and die just as word of his return reached his former kingdom. Throughout a life of Shakespearean dimensions, Abdul Rahman maintained his dignity and hope for the freedom of his people.

Abdul Rahman’s life story is told in full historical detail in the Oxford University Press book, Prince Among Slaves by Terry Alford, a property under contract to Unity Productions Foundation.

The film PRINCE AMONG SLAVES will be a vivid, dramatic feature film of an extraordinary man in extraordinary times, interweaving universal themes of bondage and deliverance, pride and forbearance, guile and providence with the wild and unruly early years of America’s Kingdom of Cotton.

The characters in this true story are larger than life: a courageous, wily, and educated Prince snatched from his throne; am expansive Faulknerian plantation family riven by alcohol and madness; a conflicted Northern journalist partial to a slave’s fate yet beholden to the interests of slaveholders; the Great Conciliator Henry Clay, U.S. Secretary of State; Andrew Jackson, one-time slaver and Presidential candidate; and his opponent John Quincy Adams, American President.

The Setting is Natchez, Mississippi, a well-preserved antebellum town, where more millionaires lived in 1820 than in New York, where Cotton was King, and where, today, over 200 plantation homes are on the National registry.

Produced by Unity Productions Foundation, the narrator is renowned hip-hop artist and actor Mos Def (The Italian Job, 16 Blocks). The film is directed by Andrea Kalin (Partners of the Heart, The Pact) with Bill Duke as the Director of Reenactments (A Raisin in the Sun, A Rage in Harlem). Supported with grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Black Programming Consortium, this 60 minute film is intended for broadcast on PBS in 2008.

PRINCE AMONG SLAVES is the true story of Abdul Rahman Ibrahima, brought to life in rich, dramatic detail on film, including:
* his life as the son of one of the most revered and fierce kings on the African continent and the tribal battle that stripped him of his rightful heritage;
* his journey from Africa to a Natchez, Mississippi, plantation where he successfully escaped-only to return in order to survive;
* his role as a man whose education surpassed that of his white superiors and how he used his knowledge to sustain himself and create his master’s wealth;
* his accidental reunion 25 years later with John Coates Cox, an Irish immigrant earlier rescued from certain death by Ibrahima’s father in Africa; and Cox’s negotiations to secure his friend’s freedom;
* the impact of slavery on Thomas Foster’s family as his adult children were saddled with drunkenness, insanity, abandonment and murder;
* the colorful characters and important historical figures who peopled Ibrahima’s life, including Mississippi journalist Andrew Marschalk who popularized his story to secure his freedom, only to later turn on him with racially charged editorials;
* his release from slavery and the work he would do to launch his celebrity, sparking racial tension throughout the ante-bellum South;
* his return to Africa and his death there just days from his former home.

TEAM
Andrea Kalin, Director, Producer and Writer
Mos Def, Narrator
Bill Duke, Director of Re-enactments
Michael Wolfe, Co-Founder, Executive Producer
Alexander Kronemer, Co-Founder, Executive Producer
Lloyd « Raki » Jones, Writer
Jennifer Lawson, Creative Consultant

KEY ADVISORS
Dr. Sulayman Nyang
Dr. Kwame Anthony Appiah
Dr. Terry Alford
Dr. Sylvianne Diouf

Character List

Prince Abdul Rahman – Marcus Mitchell

Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori was a young prince raised in a life of affluence by his legendary father, Sori the Great, chief of the Kingdom of Futa Jallon in West Africa. A general in his father’s army, Abdul Rahman became a prisoner of war and was sold into slavery at age 28. From a life of power and privilege, he fell into exile and enslavement in a strange land, in Natchez, Mississippi, where his master referred to him derisively as « Prince ». There he endured unimaginable indignities, yet was able to carve out a new life by working his way into an exceptional position, marrying a fellow slave, and eventually building a family with many children. Thanks to several improbable twists of fate, he was granted his freedom and ultimately returned to Africa. Through hard work, deep faith and unwavering determination, Abdul Rahman rescued his wife and several children from enslavement. Before he died, his royal status was acknowledged in the land that had held him in bondage.

Thomas Foster – Bruce Holmes
Thomas Foster, a farmer recently arrived in the Spanish territory of Mississippi, purchased Abdul Rahman and one of his lieutenants for 930 pesos. A diligent and hard-nosed businessman, Foster was ambitious and deeply religious. He owned Abdul Rahman for four decades. In that time, his relationship with the African changed many times, from purchaser to punisher to boss. After some years, Foster rewarded honest service with a leadership role on the plantation. Having benefited enormously from « Prince’s » knowledge of crops and men, Foster refused for years to sell him. Finally, under pressure from the federal government, he signed over his most valuable slave to the Mississippi journalist Andrew Marschalk on condition that Abdul Rahman not be allowed the privileges of a free man within the United States. In the end, when Abdul Rahman succeeded in raising the funds to free some of his family, Foster refused to sell. Thomas Foster died the same year as Abdul Rahman. While Abdul Rahman received printed obituaries on the news of his death, Foster passed away without much notice.

Isabella – Dawn Ursula
Isabella was 25 years old at the time of her marriage to Prince Abdul Rahman. Whereas he was a Muslim, Isabella was Christian and attended church regularly in Washington, Mississippi. Ultimately, the pair had five sons and four daughters. In 1827, when Abdul Rahman was permitted to leave the plantation for Africa, he immediately raised the funds for Isabella to accompany him. They returned to West Africa together, and she continued to live there once Abdul Rahman passed away. Eventually, two of her children joined her and lived out their lives in West Africa. Descendants of those children returned to the United States in the 1990s. One, Artemus Gaye, appears in the film. He lives in Washington D.C.

Andrew Marschalk – John C. Bailey
Andrew Marschalk brought Natchez its first printing press and became the first newspaper publisher in the Mississippi Territory. He had a nose for a good story and began writing and printing romanticized articles that eventually called national attention to Abdul Rahman’s plight. Marsckalk had a colorful personality. A friendly and genuine person, he often spoke first before thinking. He helped Abdul Rahman compose a letter to Henry Clay, then Secretary of State, requesting the African royal’s emancipation. Ultimately, the letter proved successful. The subsequent tour that Abdul Rahman made through the north as a free man raising funds to liberate his children was conceived and supported by Marshalk. Yet before it was done, Marshcalk turned on Abdul Rahman to further his own personal agenda with the presidential candidate Andrew Jackson and with Thomas Foster.

Dr. John Coates Cox – Wilson White
One-eyed Irishman Dr. John Coates Cox befriended the young Prince Abdul Rahman in Africa. Through a turn of events so astounding as to appear providential, a quarter century later Dr. Cox reunited with the Prince, and worked to secure his freedom.
As a young man Dr. Cox was a ship’s surgeon on a voyage to the west coast of Africa. He went ashore, became separated from his companions, and arrived near death in Timbo. Abdul Rahman father, King Sori, saw to Dr. Cox’s wounds and saved his life.
In Mississippi Dr. Cox was given the opportunity to attempt to repay his debt.

Secretary of State Henry Clay
In an effort to sustain diplomatic relations between Morocco and the United States, Secretary of State Henry Clay requested Abdul Rahman’s emancipation from slavery. Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States as a sovereign nation. Its geographical position at the mouth of the Mediterranean, and its sultan’s readiness to protect American trade there, made diplomatic relations extremely important.

President John Quincy Adams
When the story of Abdul Rahman’s history and current situation began to spread, President John Quincy Adams intervened. As a result, Abdul Rahman was allowed free passage (though still technically enslaved) to return to Africa. When Abdul Rahman approached President Adams to ask for funds to free his children, Adams refused. For he had learned that the man was Western African, not Moroccan, and therefore of no diplomatic use to America.

David Walker – Theodore M. Snead
David Walker was one of early America’s most respected and feared anti-slavery advocates. He warmly welcomed Abdul Rahman to Boston’s African Masonic Lodge. Walker’s fiery abolitionist articles, published in the first African American newspaper, the Freedman’s Journal, ignited deep-seeded fears in slaveholders throughout the South. Walker gave an inspirational speech encouraging the Masons to donate funds to help free Abdul Rahman’s children.
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