May 10th: Memory For Slave Trade
In France, the 10h of May is a “national day of memory for slave trade, slavery and their abolition”. A large number of events are scheduled to take place across France and its territories with an emphasis on remembrance by European populations.
France is the first country to have declared black slave trade and slavery as a “crime against humanity”. Amongst the numerous decrees and laws adopted in France to perpetuate the memory of slavery and prevent it from falling into oblivion and to honour the victims of this demeaning practice a law was voted on 21 May 2001.
For the occasion we’ve asked few questions to Carole Bienaimé Besse producer and director of “Lincoln, The Roads To Freedom” a documentary film she did for the Emancipation Proclamation anniversary in 2013. We met her at her office just after the ceremony at the French Senate with President François Holland and before the ceremony place du Général Catroux in Paris organized by Les Amis du Général Dumas.
TSÉ: Could you tell us more about your film?
Carole Bienaimé Besse: It is a documentary film I coproduced with by France Télévisions in France. It was released in many countries in 2013 including the US. The shoot took place in the US. The film was screened during the 40th anniversary fo Civil Rights Act in the US and will be screened today also. That is the magic of historical documentary films, they never die!
TSÉ: As a French director why did you decide to do a film about Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation?
Carole Bienaimé Besse: To be honest, my nationality do not condition my editorial line. As a producer, writer and filmmaker I feel free to talk about everything. The idea is to share my author point of view. To talk about a story, a subject, a character, etc… from my perspective. In 2012 I wanted to do a film about slavery as I really think it is not really taught at school (in France I mean) despite the fact it is part of our common history. It is universal. Steven Spielberg puts Abraham Lincoln in front of the scene in 2012 with his feature film with Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field, Lincoln became a “trending topic” and then France Télévisions decided to coproduce the film.
TSÉ: What was the point you wanted to describe in the film.
Carole Bienaimé Besse: I made a lot of research for the film, spent a lot of time at the National Archives in Washington DC. Talked with experts and prominent historians in France and in the US of course, and also Civil Rights leaders. I really wanted to insist on the modernity of Lincoln’s administration. He was a modern man and a modern President. Very pragmatical also, that is why he issued the Emancipation proclamation. It was an act of war against the rebel states, even if at the end this decision led to emancipation, then freedom. Being able to join the troops of your country is the first step to citizenship when you are a man, and Lincoln made it possible. You can not go back after that kind of decision. 200 000 blacks fought during the Civil War, that is why we can really say that blacks earned their freedom. It was not given to them. By destroying slavery you also destroy the economy of your opponent, that was a major move of Lincoln administration.
The other thing I wanted to focus in the film was the question: “what is happening just after you finally get your freedom?”. “What do you do?” “Do you have the right to work for a salary?” “Do you have the right to own a property?” “Do you have the right to vote?” Freedom is a long process even when your are a nation with fundamental principal is freedom such as the United States of America.
It was interesting to think that for a moment Lincoln considered he’ll send all the slaves -4 millions at that time in the US- to Africa after the release of the 13th amendement. He couldn’t imagine after all the US went through, blacks and whites, former slaves and slaves owners could leave together as a peaceful nation. He was right in a way even if the idea of colonization was wrong. The idea that people who were born in the US (the fourth generation of slaves) could go to a continent they didn’t knew was not realistic. Only few emancipated slaves went to libera.
What happens in the US today and also in France, what described so well Ta-Neshi Coates in his book “Between The World And Me” are really important issues, it shows that being fully aware of the past definitely helps to live in peace despite our differences.
TSÉ: You work on other projects as producer, Cultural, Historical, Current Affairs, etc… What about directing are you working on a new film?
Yes it took me three years… but I am back on directing. I’m actually working on an historical and sociological feature documentary film . It will be a film and a book. It is a American-French coproduction. I’ll say more about it at Festival de Cannes next week!
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