Creating Book of Negroes

The Book Of Negroes

In case you weren’t entirely sure Book of Negroes had finally reached its climactic moment—at least as far as the title goes—the series offered a nice title drop as Aminata was finally enlisted in the project that birthed Lawrence Hill’s great novel. With the Americans set to retake New York (as cruelly as they possibly could), the English found a meager loophole to allow them to uphold, to some flimsy degree, their promise of freedom.

To be able to compensate slave owners the loss of their “property” as the English weighed anchor and bailed, Aminata was brought on as an employee yet again by the garrison to write down the name and a brief biography of every runaway former slave that was taking a British ship north to Canada. As Chekura said, she had finally become the djeli she was always meant to be—though Aminata has been carrying names with her since before the beginnings of her long journey home.

And yet, for all that this book is in many ways the most tangible imprint Aminata leaves of her life, and in reality remains a stunning testament of an ignored history, transcribing the names made up only a small part of an episode that had a number of storylines to wrap up before Aminata could take the journey to Nova Scotia.

What is a discretionary attraction between Aminata and Sam in the book turns into a tricky love triangle in this episode—Chekura’s past continued to haunt him, egged on by his competition who seemed to enjoy nothing more that outing Chekura’s betrayal of his own people. But at the same time, Sam’s loyalty to the Americans—and slave-owning Washington in particular—is a betrayal in its own right. It’s Aminata who can see past all this, or at least find a way to forgive it. She can understand Sam’s loyalty to his homeland, and more than anyone she can understand Chekura’s deep pain about the things he has done.

Though, the series is also burdened with the reappearance of Appleby (Greg Byrk looking as rotten on the outside as his character is on the inside). Here again he oozes predatory terror—the kind that makes the show’s decision to race through his storyline an appreciated, if jarring, gesture, while Lindo also returns, still ineffectual and convinced he should be forgiven for the paltry act of being marginally more decent than the rest. While Aminata can understand and forgive Chekura and Sam—whose choices are limited—she denies Lindo that satisfaction, and turns her back on both her owners for the last time in a gesture of quiet power that speaks to the leader she is becoming.

Instead there is hope to keep her moving forward. On Canadian soil she has the promise of freedom and no idea, yet, the hardships she will face, along with a new child and a new chance at a family with her husband. Except that the series creators are also painfully aware of how fragile that hope was at the time, showing us yet another example of a family ripped apart when Claiborne is dragged back south just as his family is preparing to leave for the sanctuary they’ve been sold. Though I didn’t really need Bertilda screaming that they’re family to get the point across—it’s been something that’s been etched into every episode since Aminata was taken, and its effects so eloquently expressed by the cast as they’ve discussed the series since its debut.

It’s also a threat that lingers over what’s to come. Still, and perhaps carrying Aminata’s own faith as she looked out to the horizon, knowing that the series is about to deviate the most from the books in this next stage of the journey, I can’t help but have a bit of hope as well. With Appleby and Lindo finally behind her—even though the damage of their actions can never ben undone—the series can finally dedicate itself fully to the parts of the saga it does best, and show us the world Aminata would create.

Book of Negroes airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.