It’s a story not well-known: A prince in west Africa who is heir to a sizable kingdom is enslaved and taken to America in 1788 at age 26 and fights for 40 years to regain his freedom.
But now, the life of Abdul-Rahman Ibrahima, an African Muslim, may reach a wide audience through a new film about his struggles.
The movie, “Prince Among Slaves,” will make its Detroit debut Thursday at a screening sponsored by local Muslim and African-American groups, including the Detroit Branch NAACP and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It comes at a time of renewed interest in some slaves’ Islamic faith.
“It’s a very moving film,” said Mitchell Shamsud-Din of Detroit, who is helping to organize the event. “We need to be conscious of where we came from, so we can know where we want to be.”
Born into the Fulbe group, Ibrahima was sold in Natchez, Miss., to a plantation owner. He wrote letters to his family in Africa, trying to regain his freedom, and his case got African leaders’ attention.
He eventually won his freedom, but his children were still slaves, and he fought hard for years to get them released. He returned to Africa, but died a few months later, with his children still in slavery.
Directed by Bill Duke and narrated by Mos Def, the movie will resonate with many in metro Detroit because of the area’s large African-American and Muslim populations, organizers said. Shamsud-Din said he was touched by the prince’s struggles to help his children.
“He tried to keep his family together against all odds,” Shamsud-Din said.
Dawud Walid, who heads the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the film “shines a light of American history that is unknown to most.”
“Many African-American youth are under the misperception their ancestors had to be civilized,” Walid said. “A second misperception is that Muslims in America is a new phenomena.
“The film shows the dignified role that both Africans and Muslims had in the early history of this nation.”