The Book of Negroes
Based on the hugely popular 2007 Lawrence Hill novel of the same name, The Book of Negroes is a six-part television miniseries which premiered on CBC (and in the United States, BET) at the beginning of 2015. Using a fictional protagonist, Aminata Diallo, to tell the underexplored story of Black Loyalists during the American Revolutionary War, The Book of Negroes is described by Hill as “very profoundly a Canadian story, but a very unknown Canadian story” (Broyld, 2017). Directed by Clement Virgo, with a screenplay by Virgo and Hill, the television adaptation swept the 2016 instalment of the Canadian Screen Awards, winning Best Dramatic Miniseries or TV Movie, three acting awards, and seven other awards – 11 out of 12 categories for which it was nominated.
In approaching the adaptation of Hill’s novel, which spent years atop Canadian bestseller lists and sold over 800,000 copies worldwide, Virgo and co-producer Damon D'Oliveira were forced to contend with issues of scope. Originally conceptualized as a film, the Conquering Lion Pictures team realized there was simply too much material; even transitioning to a mini-series structure, Virgo and D'Oliveira told Variety that, “Our biggest challenge was to translate the power of the novel into six compelling hours of television” (Saval, 2014). Canadians seemed eager to learn whether this challenge was met: with almost 1.7 million viewers, the premiere episode was CBC’s highest-ranking program in nearly two decades.
As history scholar, Dann J. Broyld beautifully explores through his article, “From the Roots to the Maple Leaf” (see "UTL Resources" below), The Book of Negroes is effectively placed in consideration with another book-turned-miniseries, Roots, which translated Alex Haley’s classic 1976 story of American slavery into an eight-episode miniseries a decade later. Going on to receive 37 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, Roots in many ways set the stage for The Book of Negroes, the latter “[acting] as a mirror to [Canada’s] own past” (2017, p. 135). Broyld goes on to write that Hill’s work – and by extension, the Conquering Lion Pictures miniseries – “provides an opportunity for Canada to interrogate and reconcile its previously underrepresented relationship with slavery” (2017, p. 137). Either way, the critical and commercial surely must have seemed to be a full circle moment for D’Oliveira, who told a reporter, “I was just a child when Roots aired and my family sat glued to our seats for six nights … This miniseries is doing the same thing to families throughout Canada” (McNeir, 2015).
Media Commons has in its holdings a DVD copy of this film. Access may be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions at Robarts Library. Before contacting us, please check "COVID-19: Updates on library services & operations."
The Lawrence Hill novel upon which the film was based is available through UTL here.
Broyld, D. J. (2017). "From the Roots to the Maple Leaf". Transition, 122.
Garrett, D. (2016). "The Cosmopolitan Perspective, the Rebellious Impulse: The Activist, Belle, Dear White People, Omar, Selma and Proposals for the Future (Part 2)". Offscreen (Montreal), 20:1, January.
Lowry, B. (2015). "The Book of Negroes". Variety, Feb. 10.
McNeir, D. K. (2015). "Buzz Continues for 'The Book of Negroes'". Washington Informer, Jan. 29.
Saval, M. (2014). "Historic 'book': market launches with epic miniseries". Variety, Oct. 7.
Conquering Lion Pictures: https://www.conqueringlionpictures.com/the-book-of-negros