In the thought-provoking documentary “Stamped From the Beginning,” director Roger Ross Williams takes audiences on a compelling journey to challenge preconceived notions about the origins of racist anti-Black ideas. Adapted from Ibram X. Kendi’s influential book, the film dives into the complex history of anti-Blackness, unraveling the threads that have woven a narrative of discrimination and injustice over centuries.
Stamped from the Beginning (2023) Netflix Movie Review
Williams begins by posing a bold question that has echoed through history: “What is wrong with Black people?” It’s a question that has fueled stereotypes and discrimination for generations, and the film systematically dismantles the oversimplified answers that have perpetuated these harmful beliefs.
The documentary, true to its title, seeks to trace the roots of anti-Blackness to their origin. Renowned activist Angela Davis succinctly points out that it’s not about the color of one’s skin or the texture of one’s hair; it’s about slavery. The film skillfully explores how Europeans justified the transatlantic slave trade by dehumanizing Africans, portraying them as beastly and evil. The term “black” gradually transformed into a linguistic analogy for these negative traits, perpetuated through art, fiction, and religion.
A crucial aspect tackled in the documentary is the creation of the concept of whiteness. The film exposes the historical race schism that led to the belief in inherent white superiority, laying the foundation for the undeserved privileges that white individuals were deemed entitled to.
To make historical evidence engaging, Williams employs a mix of logical academics and captivating storytelling techniques. Recognizing the need to keep the audience engaged, he incorporates beautifully rendered animations, archival footage, and recent viral moments to provide familiar context to the concepts presented. The animated segment portraying 16th-century Black poet Phillis Wheatley is particularly impactful, illustrating the constant need for Black women to prove their worthiness—a struggle that persists to this day.
Pop culture references are strategically inserted throughout the film, challenging viewers to reevaluate their recognition and admiration for certain images. By pairing voiceover testimonies with well-liked movies and TV shows, the documentary prompts a necessary examination of what these images truly represent within the context of anti-Blackness.
While the film excels in most aspects, the use of an actor to portray Ida B. Wells in a grave historical segment reveals the limitations of narrative interpretation within a documentary. However, this minor flaw does not diminish the overall impact of the film.
“Stamped From the Beginning” doesn’t pretend to present radical or new beliefs. Instead, it artfully presents historical context, gradually revealing the myths, distortions, and fallacies that have been accepted as truth for centuries. The documentary encourages viewers to critically reassess their understanding of history and dismantle ingrained biases. In doing so, it achieves a radical transformation of perception—one that is sorely needed in our ongoing fight against systemic racism.