Manderlay and Racialized Freedom
This chapter argues that Manderlay (2005) challenges the interpretation of emancipation as the founding moment that propelled US racial progress from slavery to freedom. The film asks an important question: what if that very history about emancipation, as it is told now, thwarts ongoing quests for black freedom? In Manderlay, a black community chooses to remain enslaved on a plantation seventy years after emancipation. There are many ways to read the film, but most critics argue that von Trier makes slavery seem preferable to emancipation. However, the film can also be seen to emphasize how the United States simultaneously proclaims loudly that slavery is past and remains a racially hierarchical society that delimits the possibilities for black freedom. In Manderlay, black freedom seems so threatening to the US social order that blacks can be killed simply for presuming that emancipation actually confers freedom.
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