Slave Revolt on Screen
The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games
A trailblazing book on the depiction of the Haitian Revolution in film and video games
In Slave Revolt on Screen: The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games author Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall analyzes how films and video games from around the world have depicted slave revolt, focusing on the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804). This event, the first successful revolution by enslaved people in modern history, sent shock waves throughout the Atlantic World. Regardless of its historical significance however, this revolution has become less well-known—and appears less often on screen—than most other revolutions; its story, involving enslaved Africans liberating themselves through violence, does not match the suffering-slaves-waiting-for-a-white-hero genre that pervades Hollywood treatments of Black history.
Despite Hollywood’s near-silence on this event, some films on the Revolution do exist—from directors in Haiti, the US, France, and elsewhere. Slave Revolt on Screen offers the first-ever comprehensive analysis of Haitian Revolution cinema, including completed films and planned projects that were never made.
In addition to studying cinema, this book also breaks ground in examining video games, a pop-culture form long neglected by historians. Sepinwall scrutinizes video game depictions of Haitian slave revolt that appear in games like the Assassin’s Creed series that have reached millions more players than comparable films. In analyzing films and games on the revolution, Slave Revolt on Screen calls attention to the ways that economic legacies of slavery and colonialism warp pop-culture portrayals of the past and leave audiences with distorted understandings.
"Alyssa Sepinwall’s exciting new book, Slave Revolt on Screen, examines how the Haitian Revolution—the modern world’s first and only successful Black slave revolt—has been portrayed in film throughout the past century, exposing not only the flagrant distortions and factual departures from the historical record in these films, but also their exoticitized notions about Haiti and their implicitly and often explicitly white supremacist attitudes toward Haitians, and toward Blacks in general, that have permeated Hollywood and the film industry up to today. The book draws upon a sweeping range of films and video games (a new genre) on or about the Revolution as well as personal relationships and interviews with some recent filmmakers. Yet the skillful hand of the historian is omnipresent as Sepinwall brilliantly weaves together the history of the Haitian Revolution and the history of filmmaking about it, urgently calling for the yet-to-come masterpiece film on this historically epic Black liberation struggle for freedom. "- Carolyn E. Fick, author of The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below
"Slave Revolt on Screen offers a fascinating exploration of the ways filmmakers have (and frequently have not) chosen to depict one of modern world history’s great events, the Haitian Revolution. In this pathbreaking study Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall considers a variety of films and videos about the revolution, showing how and why Hollywood and other major centers of cinema hesitated to portray the horrors of slavery, let alone Black slaves in rebellion against their white masters. Of particular interest is Sepinwall’s attention to video games, in many ways the greatest entertainment form of the twenty-first century. She shows how video games have frequently proved more receptive than traditional films to portraying Haiti’s rebel slaves as the masters of their own fate. Anyone interested in questions of race, history, and film will find much of interest and value in Slave Revolt on Screen. "- Tyler Stovall, author of White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea