The White Death of the Black Wizard

If Heaven Reaches Down To Earth is a visual poem, The White Death of the Black Wizard is a visual eulogy. The text displayed on screen are exerts from the suicide note of Timoteo, an Afro-Brazilian slave who died in Salvador in 1861.

The film mixes contemporary and archival footage, some of which is damaged and grainy. We look back through time to the faces of enslaved people. In toil, in degradation, in poverty, their existence is recorded and photographed. Framed as part of the machinery of industry, their exploitation natural and inconsequential.

Timoteo writes that this is his third attempt at suicide, and recommends others do not swallow poison or glass, as those methods take too long to kill. The desperation with which he tries to escape life is heartbreaking and horrifying. And enraging.

The tone of this film is of grief, white hot and burnt dry. It conveys an unspeakable injustice. A crime. Which was full enough of horror in the case of just Timoteo, but must be multiplied million-fold when conceiving of slavery.

The music is also more like a horror film than a historical piece. It is mournful, ominous, discordant, with a piercing wail that rises as the film goes on, both screaming in pain and warning of consequence. That kind of pain, that kind of trauma, it can never go nowhere, it must will out.

The contemporary footage manages to match many of the shots in the archival footage, showing these same places, so close in time as to be identical in shot, and far enough apart to have fallen into ruin from neglect. A history no one wants to remember any more.

But 1861 was not that long ago. My great-grandfather, whom I knew, had his father’s birth certificate and it was from the 1880s. 20 years distance separates him from Timoteo. Slavery is not ancient history. It is the very recent past.

The White Death of the Black Wizard is a funeral cry, and it asks us to cry with it.