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March 30, 2022 1:59 pm

Israeli-Produced Film About African Child Abducted Into Slavery Screens at UN

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

(From left) “Equiano.Stories” producer Mati Kochavi, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan and New York City Mayor Eric Adams at an event at the United Nations on March 29, 2022. Photo: Shahar Azran.

An excerpt from an Israeli-produced film about the life of an African man who was sold into slavery as a child in the 18th century was featured at the United Nations on Tuesday, to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Equiano.Stories” is based on the true story of Olaudah Equiano, who was abducted at the age of 11 in a West African village in 1756. Equiano eventually bought his freedom after decades of slavery, worked to end the slave trade in Great Britain, and wrote about his experiences in the book, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African.”

The film explores what would have happened if Equiano had social media during his youth and could document life in his village before he was abducted. It was shot as a self-recorded, first-person account within the format of Instagram Stories. The media production company behind the project, Stelo Stories, also created Eva.Stories, which similarly reimagined the life of a Jewish teenager during the Holocaust through Instagram Stories.

The UN screening was hosted by General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid, at the initiative of Israel’s ambassador to Turtle Bay, Gilad Erdan. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, in his first visit to the UN since taking office in January, spoke at the event alongside ambassadors from African and Caribbean countries, as well as the producer of the film, Mati Kochavi.

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“By choosing to tell Equiano’s story through the lens of a smartphone, the filmmakers took advantage of a perspective that’s familiar to all of us, particularly young generations who consume so much content through their phones,” said Washington’s envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “And while the negative consequences of social media are well-documented, we also know that it can be a dynamic tool for exposing injustice and connecting us with the stories of people across the world.”

Speaking at the event, Ambassador Erdan noted the similarities between the fight against racism and antisemitism.

“Both of our fights emanate from a history of enslavement,” he explained. “The commonality is our past and this is what makes Israelis so empathetic to Africans whose equality, dignity, and self-determination was stolen in the slave trade. This commonality is why it is so important for Israel’s Mission to the United Nations, and for me as its ambassador, to have initiated today’s presentation of ‘Equiano.Stories.'”

The ambassador also recounted a three-day visit in February to South Carolina and Alabama, his first official tour in office, where he learned more about African-American communities and the history of slavery.

“As I toured plantations and heard what slaves endured, I realized how close these stories struck to home,” he recalled. “I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors who experienced unspeakable horror and suffering. The story of the trans-Atlantic slave trade is the story of people who had their humanity stolen. Not because they were criminals, but simply because they were different.”

“Slaves in America broke the chains of bondage, took back their humanity, and fought discrimination with determination. They marched and they did not stop,” continued Erdan. “This too, is the story of my people, the Jewish people.”

“Let us unite in a new covenant in which we support one another even when others seek to divide us,” he said. “A covenant in which we march hand in hand, arm in arm, and bridge by bridge to write a future of freedom. Together in our new covenant, we shall overcome faster than we ever have before.”

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