Sunday, December 8, 2013

Billy G. Smith's "Ship of Death"

Billy G. Smith is Distinguished Professor of Letters and Science in the History Department of Montana State University, where he has won every major teaching and research award offered. He is the author or editor of eight books and dozens of articles.

Here Smith dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, Ship of Death: A Voyage That Changed the Atlantic World:
The Hankey, a relatively large oceangoing wooden vessel, with square sails on foremast, mainmast and mizzenmast at the back, became the Ship of Death when it spread yellow fever around the Atlantic world in 1793. A replica ship might have a leading role in the film as was portrayed in Master and Commander (2003).

I would cast Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as Philip Beaver, the British naval officer and idealist who was one of the organizers of the short-lived attempt to found a West-African colony on land purchased from Africans and using hired rather than enslaved African labor. As conditions worsened at the colony, he took control of the venture and was the last person to abandon the colony. Cranston would be able to perform both aspects of Beaver’s personality, the visionary, self-righteous abolitionist and the ruthless, paranoid leader of a dwindling number of white and black workers.

Djimon Hounsou  (Amistad) would be cast as Jalorem, Bijago leader of Canabac Island, who both sold land to Beaver for the ill-fated colony and who held the British would-be settlers to behavior that would benefit local Africans. The role of Jalorem requires an actor to portray an extremely able warrior as well as a canny leader.

One of the few English women and men who survived the entire 1792-3 voyage of the Ship of Death was Elizabeth Rowe, widow of the physician who joined the colonizing venture. I’d cast  Robin Wright (House of Cards) for this role.
Learn more about Ship of Death at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue