In 1860, Mississippi Senate Davis on the floor of the United States Senate opposed a bill funding education for Black people. To justify this, Davis crafted a made up fairytale he claimed came from the Bible around when Cain was exiled from the Garden of Eden.
Apparently, Cain comes across the land of Naan and according to Senator Davis, this land was inhabited by animals and beasts that were created before humans – before Adam & Eve. Among these beasts was an animal like group with darker skin. Senator Davis was talking about Black people and stated that Black inferiority is the will of God as confirmed by history. Mind you, this is the same Senator Davis who would go on to become the President of Confederate States of America to justify this idea that the inequality between the Black and White races was Stamped From the Beginning.
Inspired by the book of the same name by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Oscar-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams’ Stamped From the Beginning explores the history of myths and stereotypical ideology about Black people that assists its audience in wrapping their brain around present-day racism..
As the director of television series such as The 1619 Project and High on the Hog, Williams has steeped himself in Black American history and has proven to be fluent in pop culture with films such as Life, Animated and Love to Love You, Donna Summer, The Super Models and his directorial feature debut with the critically acclaimed Cassandro.
Featuring on camera commentary by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and a host of Black women intellectuals whose experience ranges from legendary activist/educator Angela Davis to the popular Lynae Vanae straight from her Instagram ‘parking lot’ commentary where she ‘keeps it Black, but keeps it brief. This was amazingly refreshing, as most docs of this nature usually feature ‘the usual suspects in documentary history’ often comprised primarily of men. These brilliant minds bring the past alive through the stories of historical figures who took radical stands against racism like poet Phillis Wheatley, memoirist Harriet Jacobs, and journalist Ida B. Wells.
Never before seen footage of Dr. Martin Luther King stating, “Somebody told a lie one day. They made everything Black – ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms of the word Black. So I did. You know what I found? I found the words wicked, dirty, tragic, wretched, woeful to name a few providing me have a clearer understanding of why others have continued to perpetuate myths of what Black people are and what our role in America is. Are they designing it for our benefit or theirs?
One of the films many highlights, is a lively discussion around the whitewashed legacies of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, coupled with what’s wrong with white savior narratives that will have your hair standing on end. But, my favorite moment stems from the beginning and end of the film where the question is posed and answered, “Can You Please Tell What is Wrong With Black People ?” The only thing wrong with Black people is that we think there is something wrong with Black people.
We are beautifully and organically crafted in a variety of shades, with full lips, hips and a swagger that is often duplicated, but will never come close to the original. We are more than the sum of our parts, our misidentified hypersexuality or the invention of Blackness that has enveloped us for hundreds of generations. We are Black. We are Beautiful and we are more than what our country has tried to stamp us from the beginning.
Currently playing at the 2023 AFI Film Festival, Stamped From The Beginning hits Netflix on November 20th.