Clement Virgo puts directorial fingerprints on The Book of Negroes for BET

Clement NS 1_high res Clement Virgo is considered one of Canada’s premier television and film directors, and American television audiences will soon see why, as he directs and produces the upcoming BET television miniseries, “The Book of Negroes.” Based on Lawrence Hill’s 2007 bestselling novel of the same name, the BET miniseries will air nationally for three consecutive nights: February 16, 17, and 18. Check local listings for times.
The title of the miniseries and book is in reference to the historic ledger that British naval officers kept during the American Revolutionary War between 1775 and 1783. The ledger contained the names of approximately 3,000 Black people that were recruited and fought alongside British troops. The listing of Black slaves in The Book of Negroes signified a promise from the British of safe passage to freedom in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1783.
While the film, which was co-written by Virgo and Hill and shot in South Africa and Canada, is based on the historic facts surrounding The Book of Negroes, the miniseries, according to Virgo, actually follows the courageous story of a young African girl (Aminata Diallo), who is kidnapped from West Africa, transported across the Atlantic Ocean to America, where she is sold into slavery and taken to a South Carolina plantation.
After marrying and ultimately being separated from her husband and child, Aminata ends up in New York, where many epic battles of the America Revolutionary War were fought. Based on her service she desperately tries to get her name into The Book of Negroes.   The questions are: Is she successful? Does she succeed in her journey of safe passage to Canada? Does she ever reconnect with her husband or her child, or does she ever return to the Mother Land of Africa? Stay tuned.
“Aminata is smart and resourceful and quickly learns to read and write, although such skills were against the law for slaves,” said Virgo, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Toronto, Canada when he was 11 years old with his family. “She also learns the valuable skills of midwifery or baby catching and, she becomes a teacher. Yet, throughout the miniseries, she is always looking for a way to go back home to Africa.”
The miniseries, released under the auspices of Virgo and Damon D’Oliveira’s Conquering Lion Pictures Studio in Toronto, stars Academy Award winning actors, Lou Gossett, Jr. and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Additionally, Aunjanue Ellis stars as Aminata Diallo. Ben Chaplin, Jane Alexander and Lyriq Bent round out the starring ensemble.
Virgo recalled when he first heard about the book. “I really didn’t want to read The Book of Negroes at first,” Virgo admitted. “The title threw me off. I had a personal aversion to the word Negro. But once I did read it, I fell in love with it. My business partner, Damon D’Oliveira and I approached Lawrence Hill about acquiring the rights to his novel to make the film.”
Prior to “The Book,” Virgo has directed and produced films with strong themes of race, fluid identities, and complex sexuality. Films in his filmography library are inclusive of Poor Boy’s Game (Danny Glover, Rossif Sutherland), Love Come Down (Deborah Cox, Larenz Tate), Lie With Me, The Planet of Junior Brown, and his debut film “Rude,” an edgy urban drama named Best Canadian Feature Film at the 1995 Toronto International Film Festival after it premiered as an Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival in Paris.
Virgo’s work in television has been equally impressive. He has directed numerous series episodes such as The Wire (HBO), The L Word, Soul Food, and Copper (Showtime). With The Book of Negroes ready to be televised from coast-to-coast in the United States, some critics that have seen the miniseries in advance are praising the film and the directorial work of Virgo.
Yet, Virgo remains humble. “Only time will tell how good it is and how many people will actual watch and like it,” Virgo said. “Hopefully it can stand the test of time like the outstanding miniseries Roots. However, right now I’m proud to have directed, produced and co-written The Book of Negroes. It’s a miniseries that needs to be seen; not because I directed it, but because it has historic value and significance for Black people in America and Canada.”

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