NEW YORK (AP) — “The BOOK of Negroes” tells the story of an 11-year-old girl kidnapped from West Africa in the 18th century who became a slave on a South Carolina plantation, an activist in New York City and a recipient of a harsh brand of freedom in Halifax before facing more peril on her return to Sierra Leone, then, arriving in England late in her life, being honored for her courage and ideals.
Aminata Diallo is this singular champion, who in a stirring BET miniseries becomes the author of the real-life “BOOK of Negroes,” a historical document compiled in 1783 by order of the British military at the end of the Revolutionary War. It chronicles some 3,000 blacks who during the war had served the King of England, not the colonists, and were thus allowed to flee to Canada where they could find the freedom they wouldn’t have been granted in the newly independent United States.
Adapted from the 2007 novel by Lawrence Hill titled “Someone Knows My Name” (published outside the U.S. as “The BOOK of Negroes”), the epic miniseries airs in two-hour INSTALLMENTS on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST.
Its cast includes Cuba Gooding, Jr., Louis Gossett, Jr., Lyriq Bent as a fellow slave and Aminata’s true love for a lifetime, Jane Alexander, and Shailyn Pierre-Dixon as the teenage Aminata.
But “The Book of Negroes” stars Aunjanue Ellis, who portrays Aminata from ages 20 through 57 in an impressive and developing performance.
“In those 37 years, she goes through a heckuva lot,” says Ellis with a laugh of wry understatement.
Ellis herself went through a heckuva lot in this portrayal. Known from “The Help,” ”Ray,” ”Get On Up” and her recurring role on CBS’ “The Mentalist,” she depicted numerous phases of her character during a breakneck three-month shoot in South Africa as well as Halifax and Toronto.
Adding to the challenge: The project was shot out of sequence.