The final two installments of Book of Negroes took a number of liberties with the original material, but as was the case last week those new directions proved to work in favour of the story. Aminata’s long journey home (and then onwards) finally came to an end this week, closing the book on CBC’s epic undertaking with a finale that was equal parts uplifting and heart-breaking.
I could easily empathize with Aminata’s unrestrained joy as she spotted the coast of Africa again, recognizing the bony landscape of her homeland even after all those years. Unfortunately, the effects of everything that has passed since she last crossed the ocean weren’t washed away by the return journey. Part of that stemmed from the realization that the trade that had condemned her to a life of forced labour was still thriving, fed by her own people and marching its way through the supposed-sanctuary that was Freetown.
More starkly was the burden Chekura brought home with him—an opportunity presented to him by the series to fully confront the actions of his past as he and Aminata attempted, one final time, to understand how the other felt about how they’d met. Aminata’s ability to forgive—knowing that he was just a child and just as obligated to the whims of the traders as she was—has always been obvious whenever someone questioned how she could love him. But Chekura’s guilt about the hardships she’d endured that he felt responsible for has never gone away.
While Lawrence Hill has made much about the advice given to him by Clement Virgo not to kill a character off-screen, the series has done so much more with Chekura than simply give him an emotional death. And Lyriq Bent has filled each of those extra moments, drawing out Chekura’s own conflicting pulls between loving Aminata and striving to be reunited for her and the knowledge that her suffering was, involuntary or no, brought about with his help. While Aunjanue Ellis has rightfully been recognized for delivering on Aminata’s strength, Bent’s delivery in their final confrontation about their journey—puncturing Aminata’s denial—left the pair evenly matched and explained the dangerous, final risk Chekura took to balance out his actions.
And while Aminata’s brief return to her homeland eventually filled up with the bitter-sweetness of the book even as she finally took her place as a djeli, the series ended on a far more uplifting note. While Chekura’s death precipitated yet another journey across the sea, Aminata’s brief role as a storyteller was blown up as she recorded every step she had taken from Bayo and transcribe the names—yet again—of everyone she had met on the way in her very own Book of Negroes. And while the reunion with May came as it did in the book, the return and tentative redemption of Solomon Lindo made for a surprise that showed the impact Aminata had on those whose lives she had passed through.
Though it was the series’ final notes—the success of the anti-slave trade bill mingled with Aminata’s own assessment that there was still more work to do—that brought the story into the present, reminding us of the nearly-forgotten ledger and echoing the claims of the cast. The series has driven home the importance of remembering those names and journeys, but it’s also asked for us to act on that knowledge—and through Aminata given us an example to follow.
What did you think of CBC’s interpretation of Book of Negroes? Let us know in the comments below!
Eleni Armenakis became a TV Junkie early on by watching Discovery obsessively as a child. A year away from home got her hooked on all things Canadian television (Republic of Doyle, oh yeah!) to go with her not-so-secret love of the historical and supernatural. In her non-TV time, she can be found writing music reviews, watching movies or hanging out on Twitter: @eleniarmenakis.