Imagine at the young age of 11, you see your parents being murdered; then shackles are put on your hands and neck and you’re forced to journey towards the ocean. This is what happened to young Aminata Diallo (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon) in 1750. During this journey, Aminata sees fellow Africans being starved, tortured and eventually dying.
Aminata’s first boat ride is the journey from West Africa to South Carolina, where she is sold as a slave to Robinson Appleby (Greg Byrk). She is now separated from the rest of the Africans who made the trip with her, including Chekura Tiano (Siya Xaba) a friend she made during her journey.
Now as a young women, Aminata (Aunjanue Ellis) promises herself that she will one day return to her homeland. She is resold to Solomon Lindo (Allan Hawco) who is much kinder and respects her ability to read and write. They head to New York for business where Aminata meets Sam Fraunces (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and they plan for her escape and freedom. She’s successful, but still is not safe due to the rising threat of the American War of Independence.
Luckily, the British seem to be on her side and she’s recruited by Sir John Clarkson (Ben Chaplin) to help register the names of Black British Loyalists in a ledger known as The Book Of Negroes which will grant them freedom and a trip to Nova Scotia.
Nova Scotia doesn’t seem to be any better for the Black British Loyalists. It’s cold and there’s no work for them. Aminata wrote letters to British abolitionists, petitioning for a change and it worked! 1000 former slaves are given the opportunity to board a boat to Africa. Will this be Aminata’s final voyage back to her homeland? Will Aminata find her happiness, which was stolen away from her at such a young age?
AND THEN SOME…
Faze caught up with Shailyn Pierre-Dixon, who plays the young Aminiata, to chat about preparing for roles, her new mini-series Between and advice for young actors.
At the young age of 11, how did you know that you wanted to act?
I wanted to act because my mom was in the industry and I just enjoyed watching her. I love drama and the arts in general. So I asked my mom if I could try it out and once I got into it, I fell in love with it.
What are some challenges that you face as a young actress?
It is difficult balancing my school and work life sometimes but I usually catch up quickly because I don’t miss a lot. If I know when my shooting dates are then my teacher will give me the worksheets beforehand so that I can work on it while on set with my tutor.
How did you prepare for the role as young Aminata?
When I got the role I read the book. That’s how I got into character and how I discovered how she felt. When I’m on set I try to imagine the scene as how I’d make it and then I make myself Aminata.
Is there a specific scene that was hard for you emotionally?
Yes, the scene where I was taken away from my parents. It was heartbreaking, sad and depressing. Already reading the book and the script in advance I knew it was going to be hard to do because I’m a very happy person in general. Playing that part was very hard for me.
What were your thoughts when you watched the movie once it was done?
I really like it. It was put together very nicely. At first I was nervous to watch it because I didn’t know how it would turn out but in the end I really liked it and enjoyed watching it.
What are you up to for the rest of 2015?
I just finished shooting Between. It’s a TV mini-series that comes out on May 21. It’s about this small town called Pretty Lake that goes into quarantine because there is a disease that is going around that kills everyone over the age of 21. It’s showing the lives of teenagers and young children trying to fend for themselves and survive in the quarantined area.
What advice would you give to someone who thinks they’re too young to become an actor?
I would tell them that they’re never too young to start an acting career because acting is amazing, fun and it stress reliever. For me, I find that it relieves my stress from school, it takes my mind of things that happened. I just enjoy so I’d tell them to go for it and if they liked it and want to do as a career then I’d encourage them to do it.
Based on The Book Of Negroes written by the Canadian author Lawrence Hill, this 6-piece mini-series follows Aminata Diallo’s journey to freedom. Available now on DVD.