Descendant, the 2022 documentary from award-winning filmmaker Margaret Brown documents the search for and historic discovery of the Clotilda, the last known ship to arrive in the United States, illegally carrying 110 kidnapped Africans.
The Descendant impact campaign was designed to support the release of the film on Netflix and achieve tangible impact for the community of Africatown, largely comprised of descendants of those onboard the Clotilda. Working alongside national partners, local community organizations and several notable influencers, the campaign team highlighted how the descendents of the Clotilda have long preserved their history through oral storytelling and are working toward memorializing these stories to fight for justice.
Through targeted press, influencer engagement, short form content and interactive digital activations the Descendant campaign set out to garner national support for Africatown and drive attention to the film’s core themes of history preservation and environmental justice. In conjunction with Netflix, Higher Ground and the filmmakers, the campaign inspired audiences and key stakeholders to use their platforms to amplify the descendants’ story and support grassroots efforts.
Through local and national partnerships and targeted programming around the film’s release and throughout the awards campaign, the campaign team secured national and local media coverage and produced in-person experiences and interactive digital content that provided a national platform for the story, bringing even more awareness of and resources to our local partners.
Participant established partnerships with the film’s subjects, several direct descendants of those onboard the Clotilda and local organizers. The campaign’s four core local partners, who played a critical role in the execution of the campaign, included the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation (AHPF), Clear Healthy Educated Safe Sustainable (CHESS), Clotilda Descendant Association (CDA), Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition (MEJAC). In addition, the campaign engaged four key national partners (The Big We, The Solutions Project and Reconstruction, and Kinkofa) who supported capacity building and technical training efforts for local organizers.
Participant hosted a Mobile “hometown” premiere to bring national leaders to Africatown to meet with community leaders and garner local coverage around the film and the community’s needs. The campaign team also screened the film in Washington, D.C. at the National Museum of African American History & Culture, inviting national political leaders and press interested in environmental and racial justice. The campaign also secured meetings for descendant leaders with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of the Vice President.
Participant developed a comprehensive digital resource, DescendantFilm.com, which launched alongside the film and includes a history of the Clotilda and Africatown, a curated list of partners and organizations, and ways for audiences to engage with issues after seeing the film on Netflix.
Working with Whetstone, Participant produced the three part series "The Descendant Cookout" hosted by Stephen Satterfield. The cookout served as a roundtable for descendants like Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and his family, Emmet Lewis and Veda Tunstall Robbins, activists, and Africatown residents to discuss issues facing the community and their hopes for the future of Africatown.
The campaign developed the #DescendantChallenge on Instagram, which invited viewers to share their family stories via daily prompts highlighting favorite family recipes, community spaces, and influential ancestors as a means of preserving their own history. Stephen Satterfield, former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Erica Alexander, Valerie Jarett and media outlet Black with No Chaser kicked off the challenge. The challenge was later amplified on the Kelly Clarkson Show.
We are currently in the campaign's second phase, focused on advancing our goal to support descendants and Africatown community leaders and organizations. We are partnering with Co-Writer and Co-Producer Dr. Kern Jackson and Reconstruction to finalize and distribute a publicly available discussion guide tied to the film.