Why ‘Alice’ Star Keke Palmer Found Playing the Film’s Enslaved Lead Character ‘Empowering’ (Video)

Sundance 2022: “It was done from a place of yes, this happened, but I’m strong, I will survive and you won’t take my spirit,” Palmer says about the film

It sounds like a horrifying fantasy: Alice, an enslaved woman on a Georgia plantation (portrayed by Keke Palmer), escapes through the woods and travels through time into the year 1973. After meeting a disillusioned political activist (played by Common), she becomes aware of the legacy of lies that kept her enslaved long after slavery was legally abolished.

However, on a panel moderated by Sharon Waxman at TheWrap’s Sundance Studio, director-writer Krystin Ver Linden said her film “Alice” is based on a real-life woman who returned to the plantation where she remained enslaved for decades after the legal abolition of slavery.

Ver Linden, who was joined on the panel by Palmer and producer Peter Lawson, said she read the story and immediately knew it should be made into a film. She spoke of reading an article in which the journalist brought the woman back to the property. “She doesn’t tell us what’s going on. She’s saying how do you feel and the woman’s describing how she feels as she goes back and then she starts to say ‘plantation,’” Ver Linden explained. “So as a reader, you’re going, ‘What is she talking about?’ And then as it gets further and further along, we find out, oh my God, this woman who was born on this plantation, she grew up (here). She had a violent,violent child childhood.” Only decades later did the woman manage to run away.

Palmer said she found embracing the character of Alice an “empowering” experience. While re-enacting traumatic experiences was triggering in many ways, Palmer described Alice as “my own version of a superhero, how I actually viewed my ancestors.”

Said Palmer, “A lot of times when we approach this conversation (it is) written by the oppressor. It’s told in a very, like, ‘I feel bad for you’ kind of way. And that’s just not the approach that Krystin took, because that’s not how she views it. And that’s not how I view it. It was done from a place of yes, this happened, but I’m strong. I will survive and you won’t take my spirit… I felt that this is a narrative that I want to be a part of.”

Ver Linden noted shocking stories exist of enslaved people living in the U.S. who were not freed until as late as the 1960s. For this film, she chose to move the action a bit later, to the 1970s, in order to allow the character to exist in a historical place just after the Civil Rights movement, rather than dropping her directly into the middle of it.

TheWrap’s Sundance Studio is presented by NFP and National Geographic Documentary Films.