La Esclava Blanca: The New Telenovela Rewriting Colombia’s History of Slavery

La Esclava Blanca: The New Telenovela Rewriting Colombia’s History of Slavery

AAIHS: African American Intellectual History Society

Yesenia Barragan
Columbia University, New York, New York

This is a guest post by Yesenia Barragan, a historian of race, slavery, and emancipation in Colombia, Afro-Latin America, and the Atlantic/Pacific worlds. She recently received her Ph.D. in Latin American and Caribbean History at Columbia University and will be a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Dartmouth College in the Fall 2016. She is currently revising her book manuscript, tentatively titled The Darkest Place: Slavery and Emancipation on the Colombian Pacific, which is the first detailed study of the gradual abolition of slavery (1821-1852) and the immediate aftermath of emancipation in the Pacific lowlands of Colombia. Yesenia is also a longtime activist and has published several pieces for the Latin American news agency Telesur on the historical memory of slavery in the Americas, Black Lives Matter, and Colombian politics.

Between Underground and Roots, the past year has witnessed a boom in the cinematic portrayal of the ugly business of and resistance to slavery in the U.S. South. Little known to American audiences, however, is the recent debut of a television series from the Latin American country of Colombia titled La Esclava Blanca (The White Slave), which depicts the slaveholding world of post-colonial Colombia, currently the country with the third largest Afro-descendent population in the Western Hemisphere (after the United States and Brazil). Produced by Caracol TV (Colombia’s largest television network) and first aired in late January 2016 in Colombia, La Esclava Blanca was transmitted to a larger Spanish-language audience in the United States via Telemundo in April. In contrast to Brazil’s longer history of telenovelas (soap operas) set during the time of slavery (see, for example, Greg Childs’s AAIHS piece on A Escrava Isaura), La Esclava Blanca is actually the first telenovela about slavery in the history of Colombia. Yet, as reflected in the title of the telenovela (The White Slave), the show engages in a violent historical revisionism by centering the fantastical travails of a white woman who ostensibly holds the key of freedom for the region’s enslaved…

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