When many people think of slavery, their minds conjure up images from the 15th and 16th centuries of African diaspora in chains in countries such as the United States, Haiti, or Jamaica. Essentially, slavery is seen as something that only happened to certain groups, in certain countries, and at certain times; certainly not a condition that millions of people still exist under to this very day. But these things couldn’t be further from the truth. In I Am Slave, based on the gripping autobiography Slave: My True Story by Mende Nazer, we get a first-hand account of one woman’s harrowing experience as a modern-day slave.
Mende, who is from the Nuba mountains of Sudan, wasn’t born into slavery, and had no understanding of the concept until she became a slave. A slavery raid in the mountains separated her from her family, who were able to escape, while Mende (who was around 12 years old at the time) was captured and became the property of a wealthy Arab family in Khartoum. For six years, Mende worked for this family. Portrayed beautifully and painfully as the character Malia (Wunmi Mosaku), we see her struggle under backbreaking labour and dehumanizing isolation, never giving up hope of being reunited with her family.
Malia’s father, Bah (Isaach De Bankolé), never gave up hope, either. Leaving his village and the rest of his family behind, Malia’s father took odd jobs in the city, on the thin glimmer of hope that, while working, he would see his daughter again. The state-sanctioned slavery under which Malia lived, a result of the Arab supremacist government ruled by wealthy Arab elites, undermined the family’s quest to reunite, and eventually, Malia’s mistress passed her off to her sister, living in London. Though slavery is no longer legal in the UK, the human trafficking of immigrant groups from all over the world, is a dirty secret that lives right on the surface of the country’s socioeconomic atmosphere. Though the chains are invisible, in the form of drugs, stolen passports, threats to family back home, etc., they are there. In a fight against her captors, and then with the country in which she found herself hostage, Malia’s powerful story, though deeply inspirational, serves as more than mere inspiration. It is a reminder that slavery/human trafficking, toxic capitalism, and anti-Blackness still exist and there are millions more just like Mende, who cannot escape their circumstances.
Engaging, thought-provoking, and profoundly humbling, I Am Slave is a film that everyone must see. I give this one 5 stars.