Inspired by the book of the same name by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Oscar-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams’ Stamped From the Beginning explores the history of anti-Black ideas in a way that helps us grapple with present-day racism.
Stamped From the Beginning
Roger Ross Williams
In his book Stamped From the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi explored the history of anti-Black racist ideas and their impact on the United States. Oscar-winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams takes inspiration from Kendi’s work to explore those themes with an array of powerful film techniques. Music and visual sampling are injected to create vivid storytelling with a hip hop sensibility.
As the director of television series such as The 1619 Project and High on the Hog, Williams has steeped himself in Black American history. He’s also proven himself fluent in pop culture with films such as Life, Animated and Love to Love You, Donna Summer. This new work shows him marshalling all of his talents at the peak of his power.
The documentary is grounded in scholarship featuring on camera commentary by Kendi and Angela Davis (who figures prominently in the book). In addition to their contributions, Williams makes a deliberate choice to feature Black women intellectuals who don’t always show up as the usual suspects in documentary history.
But the film never feels like a lecture. Instead, these brilliant minds bring the past alive through the stories of historical figures who took radical stands against racism. They include poet Phyllis Wheatley, memoirist Harriet Jacobs, and journalist Ida B. Wells. There is a lively discussion of the whitewashed legacies of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln; and what's wrong with white savior narratives.
Stamped From the Beginning makes the past come alive in a way that’s vital in order to grapple with the present.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival