Film Review: ‘Prince’ brings African history to community

Prince Among Slaves, a moving documentary about a man’s journey from revered royalty to downtrodden slave, premiered Saturday, Feb. 2 at the Cullen Performance Hall.

"A story truthfully told can change the world," said executive co-producer Alex Kronemer.

In making this film, executive producers Michael Wolfe and Kronemer aimed to educate and inspire. The film explores the consequential loss of spirituality because of the slave trade, Muslims as a subset group in the United States since its beginnings, the misconception of early African cultures and man’s ability to overcome misfortune.

"African-American history does not begin at zero," Kronemer said.

Prince Abdul Rahman’s story is a testament of Africa’s rich history and its connection to all cultures and cohorts.

Audience member and UH alumni Rodney Derbigny said that he appreciates inspiring stories about our African ancestors.

Prince Abdul Rahman (Marcus Mitchell (adult Rahman)) was a strategic military leader and heir to a highly developed kingdom prior to his capture and eventual enslavement. His father’s kingdom numbered well into the thousands, and his subjects possessed developed skills in agriculture and architecture.

Rahman was well educated, having been schooled in geometry, astronomy and several languages from a very early age. He and his people were staunch believers and maintained a strict adherence to the laws of Islam. The prince would later rely on his faith and knowledge to earn his freedom.

"Faith is essential to everyone’s perseverance," said Derbigny.

Shackled and shaken, Rahman endured the middle passage aboard the Africa.

Thomas Foster, a promising businessman with little formal education, purchased Rahman in Natchez, Miss. Rahman was coined "Prince" after he pled with Foster for his immediate release. Foster dismissed his royal claim as nothing more than a tall tale and exploited his keen cultivating skills to multiply his cotton crops. In spite of his taunting, Foster favored Rahman.

Rahman sold and traded vegetables at a local trading post in Natchez, where a chance meeting led to his subsequent freedom.

After 40 years of rigorous servitude, Rahman and his wife Isabella diligently campaigned for money in the Northern United States to free the children and grandchildren they left behind. His story garnered the attention of politicians, community leaders and President John Quincy Adams. Although Rahman was unable to raise enough money to free all of his children and grandchildren, he returned to Africa. Rahman died before his children set foot on African soil, but his faith was forever steadfast and his efforts were unyielding.

"He maintained his dignity throughout, even in the face of adversity," said audience member J. Jones.

The transatlantic slave trade dramatically affected the course of history for both Africans and African-Americans.

Audience member and UH alumni Masani Mazzoni said films like Prince Among Slaves are needed to promote the black community to embrace its African heritage.

A subtler approach to slavery, the film highlighted the importance of community, family and hope.

"He never believed he was (a) slave," said Mazzoni. "Not believing the label was the whole motif."

In light of Black History Month, the film was broadcast nationally on Monday Feb. 4 on PBS.

Leave a Comment