Documentary Films: Owen Alik Shahadah’s ‘500 Years Later’

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Looking for something interesting to watch during the Month of February in observance of Black  History Month?

Filmmaker, writer and Pan-Africanist scholar Owen Alik Shahadah’s 2005 independent documentary film 500 Years Later is a valuable exploration and dissection of racial politics, as it affects those of the African Diaspora. Written by MK Asante and directed by Shahadah, this documentary presents a global perspective on the effects of colonialism, slavery, and the need for proper education on and agency over African and Black history and dialogue.

According to the official synopsis…

“500 Years Later explores the tragic legacy of the forced migration of untold thousands of Africans from their homeland and the unique c0 challenges that have resulted from this displacement. Through penetrating interviews with scholars and laypeople alike — and ranging from the United States to London to Barbados — this unflinching documentary sheds new light on the problems of racial inequalities, poverty and oppression.”

500 Years Later won five international film awards and, while highly lauded, was also considered to be controversial for its genre (creative documentary) and its political message about race relations. The film premiered at the Pan-African awards and immediately won best documentary.  While it opened at several film festivals in 2005, it didn’t make its U.S. premiere until 2008. Interspersed with compelling narratives, commentary, music and spoken-word, 500 Years Later outlines the continued marginalization of black people across the diaspora, the violation of basic human rights, and the oppressive silencing by an imperialist society that would rather see black people assimilate and “just get over” their past and ignore the importance of black history. 500 Years Later spans five continents and at least twenty countries charting the legacy of slavery and its global link to crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, poor education, disenfranchisement, corruption, and poor health.

It’s definitely a must-watch and is a useful educational resource to the discourse on systemic racism and oppression, and is available on DVD via Netflix’s rental service and for rent on YouTube for $2.99.


BlackRedTwists1Tiffani Jones is the creator and writer of Coffee Rhetoric, a blog about women, pop-culture, film and race. A contributor to both print and digital platforms, she has offered commentary in the New York Times, on HuffPost Live, and on WNPR’s Where We Live.