The film Twelve Years a Slave was released this past week at a pivotal time – the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. Though the movie focuses on slavery in America, it was made by British filmmaker Steve McQueen, whose parents are from the West Indies by way of the slave trade. A quiet coincidence could be found in latter pages of the news: this weekend, fourteen Caribbean countries damaged by the slave trade announced they will demand apologies, and reparations, from Britain, France, and the Netherlands.
The case is based on the past’s lingering effect on the present, according to the nations. “Our constant search and struggle for development resources is linked directly to the historical inability of our nations to accumulate wealth from the efforts of our peoples during slavery and colonialism,” said Baldwin Spencer, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda. The list of damages they bring to Leigh Day, the London-based law firm representing them, ranges from underdeveloped economies to health issues.
With crimes over two centuries old and, in fact, not legal crimes when they were committed, reparations seem unlikely. However, settlements may be reached, bringing the Caribbean nations some of what they wanted: money, and acknowledgment.
THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly Okay) for the fourteen Caribbean countries filing suit against nations that made them the victims of slave trade.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: There are strings attached to every endeavor. History has a way of being forgotten unless brought up in ways that can make a weary world take note, as with Twelve Years a Slave‘s release on an historically significant anniversary. While the Caribbean countries may have wanted more than mere acknowledgment of barbarity, asking for reparations may be a stretch. Should modern-day nations pay for injustices committed centuries ago? Whether the courts decide may be beside the point. What was desired was acknowledgment and money, and the nations still suffering may get some of both – along with discussion as to whether these kinds of wrongs can ever be righted.