When the word emancipation turns up in the narrative titles of Free State of Jones, a new Civil War drama, it’s enclosed in quotation marks. That skeptical touch is only a sign of our times—growing racial tension in the U.S., stoked by police killings of unarmed black citizens, the rollback of voting rights, and the ongoing injustice of the drug war, have created an appetite for fresh views of American slavery and more critical assessments of its legacy. Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012) painted an unvarnished portrait of the president as he pushed the 13th Amendment through Congress, and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013) shocked people with its frank re-creation of the racist antebellum south. More recently the History Channel unveiled a remake of the 1977 miniseries adapted from Alex Haley’s best seller Roots, about several generations of a slave family, and this fall Fox Searchlight will release Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation, which dramatizes the Virginia slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in 1831. Continue reading >>