The Retrieval (2014)





The Retrieval is an intimate study of the experience of two African American men during the Civil War. Thirteen-year-old Will works for white bounty hunters as bait, luring wanted escaped slaves and freedmen back to his gang. The film chronicles Will’s bond with Nate, an escaped slave he is tasked with finding, and the relationship they form amidst the danger and violence of the era.

The Retrieval capitalizes on the evolving audience interest in intimate human stories and in the realities of slavery and African Americans’ lives in the South.

The film did not reach many audiences, as it was a low-budget independent film that was not shown in theaters; however, it has been well-reviewed by critics, resulting in a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Both critics and historians commended the film’s underlying historical research. Despite the positive reviews, general audiences who did see the film saw it as very bleak.




David Cecelski,The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway & The Slaves Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

John Hope Franklin, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Sterling Bland, Voices of the Fugitives: Runaway Slave Stories and Their Fictions of Self Creation, Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Seretha Williams and Marlene Allen, Afterimages of Slavery: Essays on Appearances in Recent American Films, Literature, Television and Other Media, Jefferson: McFarland, 2012.


Matthew Mason and Rita Koman,“Complicating Slavery: Teaching with Runaway Slave Advertisements,” OAH Magazine of History 17, no. 3 (April 2003).

“Blood on the leaves; Slavery on film.” The Economist, October 8, 2016, 28(US). Biography in Context.

Film Reviews

Godfrey Cheshire,“The Retrieval Movie Review,” Roger Ebert, April 2, 2014.

Chris Eska,“The Retrieval a Civil War Drama,” New York Times, April 1, 2014.

Joy Leydon,“SXSW Review: The Retrieval,” Variety, March 22, 2013.

“‘Retrieval’ a Trek Through Dilemmas of Slavery, Manhood,” LA Times, May 15, 2014.



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