Skip to main content
Descendant film image


Black History Month

Book Now Book Now

One of the five best documentaries of 2022, per the National Board of Review, Margaret Brown’s film zeroes in on the people of Africaville, Alabama, and in particular the descendants of the 110 slaves brought in aboard the Clotilda, 1860. This was the last known slave ship to transport kidnapped Africans to America as human cargo, an illegal shipment undertaken as a bet by a local landowner, Timothy Meaher – who promptly burned and sank the boat to destroy the evidence.

The Africans would be emancipated by the civil war, but unable to afford to return to Africa they settled near Mobile, and many worked for Meaher and the other wealthy white families in the area. It was only with the posthumous publication of historian Zora Neale Hurston’s book Barracoon in 2018 that the story of the Clotilda became more widely known, and it spurred a search to locate the wreckage. This is where director Margaret Brown picks up the story…

Descendant doesn’t just relate the history of a 200-year-old crime, it also looks at what’s changed – and what hasn’t – in the interim. There’s a glaring discrepancy between the standard of living enjoyed by the descendants of the slaves and the white families who called the shots back then, and still do today. The discovery of the wreck leads to excitement in Africaville and Mobile. It’s clear this is an opportunity to develop tourism. But who will profit from it, and in what form will reparations take, if any?

The film asks profound questions which could also apply to the colonizers in this country.

Margaret Brown’s fascinating film deals not only with the rediscovery of the ship by a team of marine archaeologists, but also with its impact on a community that has rallied together and has finally managed to establish a key element of their collective history. And while the past has a tendency to be claimed and reshaped by those in power, the residents of Africatown, Alabama, are not about to let that happen again.

Wendy Ide, The Observer

Descendant is worth seeing no matter who you are. For viewers like me, however, it engenders the reality that, no matter how hard anyone tries to whitewash history, our stories will forever continue to be told in full, by us and for us.

Odie Henderson,

If you’ve ever wondered what ’holding space’ looks like in practice, the director Margaret Brown’s deeply attentive documentary Descendant provides moving examples… The film is rife with sympathetic and insightful subjects.

Lisa Kennedy, New York Times


Margaret Brown

Country of Origin






109 min

Book Tickets

Sunday February 05

2:00 pm
VIFF Centre - Studio Theatre
Book Now

Monday February 06

1:30 pm
VIFF Centre - Studio Theatre
Book Now

Tuesday February 07

1:30 pm
VIFF Centre - Studio Theatre
Book Now

Thursday February 09

8:00 pm
VIFF Centre - Studio Theatre
Book Now


Executive Producer

Shawn Gee, Kate Hurwitz, Questlove, Jeff Skoll, Tariq Trotter, Diane Wyermann, Zarah Zohlman


Margaret Brown, Essie Chambers, Kyle Martin


Zac Manuel, Justin Zweifach


Michael Bloch, Geoffrey Richman

Original Music

Ray Angry, Rhiannon Giddens, Dirk Powell

Catch More Black History Month Programming

More New Releases

Saint Omer

Alice Diop’s superb film, based on a notorious case of infanticide from a few years ago, subtly, almost surreptitiously evokes complex ideas and emotions around motherhood, gender, and marginalized communities.

VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre VIFF Centre - Studio Theatre

Chien Blanc

Living in LA in 1968, French novelist Romain Gary adopts a stray Alsation, but to his horror discovers it has been trained to attack Blacks. His wife, the actress Jean Seberg argues it must be put down, but Gary insists it can be retrained...

VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre


In the Heat of the Night

Sidney Poitier in an indelible role a Philadelphia police detective Virgil Tibbs, pulled in as a murder suspect when changing trains in Mississippi. He allies with bigoted local sheriff (Rod Steiger) to solve the case.

VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings

This boisterous comedy about a breakaway barnstorming Black baseball team in the 1930s should be better known. It's an entertaining gloss on one enterprising ball player's resourceful response to segregated leagues, with Star Wars' Billy Dee Williams.

VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre

Purple Rain

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called Prince. Purple Rain is everything you could want from a rock film, and more - it's sexy, sassy, slick and it captures the young Prince in the raw.

VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre
Under the Cherry Moon (35mm)
Under the Cherry Moon film image

Under the Cherry Moon (35mm)

Prince is Christopher Tracy, a gigolo on the French Riviera, determined to seduce $50 million heiress Kristin Scott Thomas (!). The pop star's directorial debut is a quirky, fun throwback to old school Hollywood glamour, with knobs on.

VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre


Viola Davis is immense in Steve McQueen's gripping crime story. When her husband dies in a shootout with Chicago PD, Veronica inherits his $2 million debt to a local mobster, and a notebook with plans to rip-off the vault of a local politico.

VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre

Black Panther

The most important movie Marvel has made to date, this Black blockbuster is a triumph for Creed director Ryan Coogler and star Chadwick Boseman. After the death of his father, T'Challa returns to the African nation of Wakanda to take his place as king.

VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre


Dear Jackie (Free Screening)

Henri Pardo's film is a cinematic letter to Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in Major League Baseball and a civil rights activist who broke the colour barrier when he joined the minor-league Montreal Royals in 1946. For a short time, the impossible seemed possible in a segregated North America.

VIFF Centre - Studio Theatre
James Baldwin Abroad: Istanbul - Paris - London
James Baldwin Abroad film image

James Baldwin Abroad: Istanbul - Paris - London

These three short docs, from 1968 - 1973, offer sharp, piercing glimpses of Baldwin in private and public, sometimes in repose and relaxed but more often holding forth, embroiled in the thorny discourse of racial politics, identity and self expression.

VIFF Centre - Vancity Theatre VIFF Centre - Studio Theatre

"This Time It's Personal" Films by Camille Billops & James Hatch (Programme 1)

Trailblazing artist and polymath Camille Billops and her partner James Hatch were courageous independent filmmakers who chronicled the ups and downs of their personal lives and family histories, and found in them the temperature of their times.

VIFF Centre - Studio Theatre

"This Time It's Personal" Films by Camille Billops & James Hatch (Programme 2)

The second programme in our short selection of independent films by Camille Bishops and James Hatch includes what is probably their masterpiece, Finding Christa, a deeply personal film about Camille's relationship with the daughter she gave up for adoption as a child.

VIFF Centre - Studio Theatre

Our Dance of Revolution

Award-winning documentary on the history of Black queer activism in Toronto, on communities that have faced every adversity from invisibility to police brutality.

VIFF Centre - Studio Theatre