NightJohn (Charles Burnett, USA, 1996)
A tale about a former runaway slave who returns to a plantation to educate his people in the ante-bellum South. The community changes radically when he begins to secretly teach Sarny, a 12-year-old slave girl, how to read and write. The brilliant cast conveys an unflinching depiction of the daily world of slavery—the agony, sacrifice, and forced constriction of reactions to cruelty. The degradation of the oppressors comes through as well as the institution of slavery diminishes everyone in its orbit. The power of the word triumphs as Sarny follows NightJohn’s tracings in the sand. Learning to read has never been more significant and charged.