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Slave Revolt on Screen - The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games

Slave Revolt on Screen

The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games

By Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall
Series: Caribbean Studies Series
Hardcover : 9781496833105, 348 pages, 29 b&w illustrations, May 2021
Paperback : 9781496833112, 348 pages, 29 b&w illustrations, May 2021

A trailblazing book on the depiction of the Haitian Revolution in film and video games


Recipient of the 2021 Honorary Mention for the Haiti Book Prize from the Haitian Studies Association

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.


"At this critical time, Slave Revolt on Screen has a great deal to teach us about those who have used cinema to challenge age-old white supremacist views on Haiti. "

- Danny Shaw,

"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

"This imaginative rumination on the representation of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution in film and in video games is the first attempt to show how cinema has neglected Haiti. . . . Sepinwall makes major contributions to film criticism as well as Haiti studies."

- R. I. Rotberg, Harvard University, CHOICE Editors’ Pick, April 2022

"The first author to center the Haitian Revolution on screen by exploring films and video games, Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall analyzes the vexed question of why this revolution, one of the most important and impactful in history, is so underrepresented. Across ten chapters, Sepinwall discusses the meaning of this lack of representation and what it says about racism, denial, history, fear, power, and positionality. . . . Sepinwall underscores the necessity of going beyond the official archives in order to depict at once the absence and the presence of the Haitian Revolution in culture. Her non-traditional archives include tweets, game code, YouTube videos, personal interviews with independent filmmakers, and digital films."

- Cécile Accilien, Kennesaw State University, H-France Review

"With the publication of this book, Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall has managed to do something extraordinary. She has chronicled the history not of a particular event or a cultural phenomenon but of a glaring absence. Most succinctly put, the heart of the book is a simple question, ‘Why aren’t there more movies about the Haitian Revolution?’ With an impressive research base and a timeline that covers the entire history of cinema, Sepinwall spends more than three hundred pages unpacking the full, unpublished history of every major (and not-so-major, it would seem) cinematic project on the subject, including many that were planned but failed to launch. Her archive on this score is impressive, consisting of the personal correspondence of filmmakers, mothballed screenplays, and her own interviews with directors, actors, and game designers, in addition to published documents like film and game reviews and newspaper articles on budget and production woes."

- Sarah Juliet Lauro, University of Tampa, H-Haiti

"It is right to conclude as Sepinwall does that Haitian involvement in films about their history must be taken seriously. But such inclusivity has not been the motivation of major producers of entertainment outside the Caribbean, a region that has historically been given unfair treatment by outside portrayers. Indeed, there are few successful Hollywood films on any aspect of Caribbean history. To say this is due to a generalized racial prejudice and power inequities recognizes but one part of the problem. To see it more closely demands the sort of consideration found in Slave Revolt on Screen which makes a notable contribution to discussions on how the Haitian Revolution has been imagined."

- Matthew J. Smith, University College London, UK, Journal of Caribbean History

"This imaginative rumination on the representation of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution in fil an in video games is the first attempt to show how cinema has neglected Haiti and even ignored heroic figures such Touissant L'overture , the slave revolts charismatic and most prominent leader . . .The book is much more important and scholarly than it's title and table of contents might suggest. Indeed in her careful dissection of the film Lydia Bailey (1952), which drew on the Haitian Revolution and the accomplishments of Touissant L'overture, and of how and why The Planet of the Apes (1969) provided a sad and demeaning contrast, Sepinwmall makes major contributions to film criticism as well as Haiti studies."

- R. I. Rotberg, CHOICE