Ill-Gotten Gains (1997)
Director: Joel B. Marsden.
Starring: Djimon Hounsou (Fyah), Akosua Busia (Fey), De'aundre Bonds (Pop), Eartha Kitt (voice of The Wood), Reg E. Cathey (Nassor), Tom Fitzpatrick (Jeremiah), Mario Gardner (Barc), Clabe Hartley (Skinner), Jamillah Nicole (Fa), Tom Taglang (Cowlie), Anthony Torn (The Vet), Peter Navy Tuiasosopo (Cooper), Claudia Robinson (Femi), Tamael, Glen Beaudin, Jon Amirkhan (Bodgie), Brye Cooper (Navy Lad).
slave revolt aboard the ship Argon Miss
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. Also a lot of curse words appear because they were heavily used in the film.
The Guinea Coast, 1869. A 148 foot schooner, Baltimore clipper type, fitted for 100 slaves and flying under the American and Portuguese flags is anchored off the Guinea Coast. There are less than 30 slaves aboard the ship and only six crew members left. One of the slaves is known as a practitioner of magic. He speaks to the spirit of the wood, who tells him: "Go be a freedom fighter. . . . I can't let you go yet. For my release, I need a fire." A big African known as Fyah screams: "I want to get out." Others tell him there is no way out. Another man tells the others to listen to Fyah for there are ways out of their situation. Fyah wants to speak with the magician. The magician is brought closer to Fyah so they can talk. Fyah tells the magician that the magician is weak and adds: "I have a blood lust for Makee." (spelling?) He tells the magician that he will give them a spell, but the magician protests: "I don't have nothing for a spell." Then the spirit of the wood tells the magician to tell everyone to stop eating. After all, if they're dead, they have no price. The magician complies and Fyah, as well as others, like the idea. The cry goes out: "Don't eat!"
A bruiser of a crewman lowers a ladder into the hold and lets himself down in the black hole. He is very nervous thinking that the captives might harm him. Up on deck Skinner watches the bruiser's back. He explains that the big "buck" down there is Fyah. The bruiser stays a little too long in the hold. Fyah and other captives jump the bruiser and kill him. They then get themselves free from their chains and subdue some other members of the crew. The revolt, however, is quickly put down. Fyah dives overboard and escapes. Skinner tries to kill Fyah by firing the harpoon gun at him in the front of the boat, but misses.
The crew is stuck off the coast waiting for black African Makee to deliver the promised 60 captives. The narrator says that the white crooks fell for the oldest trick in the world. As hostages Makee gave the captain two of his wives along with a virgin bride. But what the whites don't know is that Makee never keeps his word.
Two black men in a boat bring Fyah back to the ship. The captain is happy to see Fyah recaptured. Skinner says: "He's the troublemaker" but someone else says no, "He's the moneymaker." The crew ties the magician to the mast. Then to show the captives what can happen to them, the captain puts out the magician's left eye.
Referring to the mostly white crew, the buxom wife of Makee tells her fellow captives: "They are total amateurs." The virgin bride tells the other two women: "He's not going to come." The older wife asks why and after a pause, the virgin bride tells her that MaKee has already had her. The buxom one asks: "You wait until now to tell us?" A very horny Skinner comes down into their separate hold, looking for sex, but he is called back on deck. Skinner is particularly interested in the virgin bride and she tells the two women: "We got to get out of this hell!" As part of their plan of escape they start to win over the confidence of their black feeder, the light complexioned wife gives him a hair ribbon and a bracelet. Back in his own hold, the feeder plays with the ribbon. One of the other slaves asks: "You got that from the girl, didn't you?" He asks because if the feeder can get that, what else can he get?
The slavers get a scare as a British war ship lappears ooking to arrest those involved in the illegal slave trade, but they are able to head up a river to hide from the ship. They are still, however, in a tough situation for the British war ship can just wait for them to come back down river and catch them when they come out onto the ocean. The captain goes ashore, to find Makee probably.
One of the captives dies for unknown reasons. The crew gets the other captives up on deck and hose them down with water. The virgin bride urges the men not to turn on each other. The crew throws the corpse over the side of the ship. Skinner returns to taunt the virgin bride. He is joined by another horny crew member, a heavy fellow. The women want to distract the crew to give the virgin bride an opportunity to grab a pistol that hangs on one of the cabin walls.
A black man comes to the ship to tell the crew: "Get out of her right now." They will kill the crew if they are not gone by the morning. The heavy crew member asks: "Now we're fighting a two front war?" That is the natives and the British.
Skinner and the heavy fellow join forces again. The heavy guy tells Skinner that he "wants first taps" at one of the women. They visit the women in their hold. The heavy fellow does not like the older, lighter skinned woman and doesn't like the "udders" of the buxom wife. So he chooses the virgin bride, the very one that Skinner wanted. Skinner doesn't like it, but decides on the buxom bride. The heavy fellow takes the virgin bride and the older wife on deck. Skinner stays below with his choice.
The magician makes a tiny magic man to do his bidding. The screams of Skinner's victim can be heard from below deck. The crew decide to distract themselves with a puppet show. The physically huge Pacific islander crew member named Cooper gets his two mask puppets to perform. Skinner comes up on deck complaining that "the nigger bitch could not get me off." Below deck are blood drops next to the buxom wife. The tiny magical man comes into the women's hold and uses some cotton to soak up some of the blood in order to give to the magician to cast a spell.
Skinner brings Fyah on deck to watch the show. He sits behind Fyah and sadistically pulls his ears. He then beats up Fyah. With Skinner busy with Fyah, the older wife gives Cooper a blow job to distract him. The virgin bride is able to sneak away and grab the pistol.
Skinner goes to see the virgin bride again. But the heavy fellow puts a gun to the back of Skinner's head and tells him that he has already had his fun.
The virgin bride shows the buxom wife the pistol. She tells the two wives: "If we really want to change this hell, then it's got to come from below."
The tiny magical man returns to the magician, who then gives his incantation: "Shadow, take me as your host. I will gladly spread some sophisticated sickness." He then lays a curse on the crew. Old crew member Jeremiah comes down into the hold to feed the prisoners. He coughs and coughs and coughs. He gets the feeder up and out to serve the food to the women. When no one is looking, they give the wrapped-up pistol to the feeder by putting it inside the bucket full of gruel. Then Jeremiah takes the feeder down to feed the captives. He yells to Cooper to: "Cover my ass!" The feeder gives the pistol to Fyah. Fyah uses the pistol to take Jeremiah hostage. The captives are freed; all except the feeder and his buddy the magician go up on deck. The feeder says that he just does not trust the others and that there is no where to run.
On deck Cooper is taken as another hostage. Jeremiah screams and one of the slaves shoots him in the head killing him. The older wife holds a rifle on Cooper. From atop one of the masts, Skinner watches what is happening on deck. He shoots one of the slaves in the shoulder and another in the back. Fyah shoots back, but misses Skinner. The buxom wife comes to the rescue by using the harpoon gun to send a harpoon into Skinner's body. The former captives now get off the ship.
The heavy fellow and a young crew member discover that their captives (except for the magician and the feeder) have escaped. A while later the captain returns with no shirt and with his pants having large rips in them. In the hold the feeder asks the magician to tell him his magic works. The magician responds: "Magic always works."
The slave ship heads out onto the ocean and is immediately taken into custody by the British war ship. They tie up the captain and go down into the hold. They find only the feeder left alive. He was able to hide from the crew when they got rid of the other remaining slaves. The British wonder what happened to the rest of the captives.
The two wives, the virgin bride, Fyah and a few other former captives, enter the hut of Makee. They come closer and closer to him and everyone starts putting their hands over his face. (The implication is that they suffocate him.)
The feeder as narrator tells the audience that the British made him stick around Freetown long enough to see the "queer one" hang and then released him.
Not a bad story, but spoiled by making it a bit "weird". For instance, they introduce magic and spells as if magic can be released to perform magical acts on its own. (Sure the Africans believed in this, but that doesn't impress the western observer.) The language used seems "funny" because it is modern English slang with lots of contemporary curse words. And there is very little history per se in the movie. Furthermore, the impressive-looking Djimon Hounsou's talents were somewhat wasted in a not very good role. It's best to try another movie on slavery rather than this one.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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