The film involves the aforementioned two travelling back in time to deep southern pre-Civil War America and examining the degrading conditions in which African slaves lived. They go to a dinner party where guests throw scraps of food to half-naked black children huddling under the table; a slave-ship fresh from Africa wherein the slavers talk about their stock as though they were animals; a slave training camp that gives the impression of a production-line; a brothel; a bounty hunter who specializes in hunting down and killing escaping slaves; and a bug-eyed scientist out to write a thesis holding that whites are inherently superior to blacks, among other things; all depicted in horrifyingly graphic, distressing and unbridled detail.
Upon the film's extremely limited grindhouse release in America, it caused massive walk-outs and almost started riots. On the directors' cut DVD of the film are some more scenes at the end of it that were cut when it was released; back in the present day, an unidentified angry black man reading William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner and imagining the black uprising described within taking place in the present.
Beware, the film is not a pleasant experience. Now don't say you weren't warned...
This film provides examples of:
- An Arm and a Leg: Samuel Cartwright has a number of subjects who purposely injured themselves, which incidentally led to gangrene and amputations.
- Anachronism Stew: Harriet Beecher Stowe and Samuel Cartwright both appear and discuss their most famous works—Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race (1851), respectively—and the setting seems to be the 1850s, but the international slave trade is prominently featured early in the film, despite having been banned in 1807.
- Artistic License – History: Several German slave owners appear in the film, despite the fact that the vast majority of German immigrants settled in the north and were morally opposed to slavery.
- Atrocity Montage: The film depicts the horrors of slavery graphically by using montages of cruelty and depravity inflicted on the slaves, to the point Roger Ebert accused of the film being racist and exploitative by reveling it and breaking the supposed message.
- Black Is Bigger in Bed: A 13-year-old sex slave cites this as one of the reasons she wants her virginity taken by a white man instead. According to Samuel Cartwright, this is caused by massive amounts of "fornication and sodomy."
- Broken Aesop: As pointed out by Roger Ebert in his review:"If it is tragic that the barbarism of slavery existed in this country, is it not also tragic — and enraging — that for a few dollars the producers of this film were able to reproduce and reenact that barbarism? Make no mistake. This movie itself humiliates its actors in the way the slaves were humiliated 200 years ago."
- Comically Missing the Point: One scene has white women denouncing the idea that their husbands would sleep with their slaves and then discussing how curious it is that each generation of slaves seems to get lighter due to "symbiosis."
- Dehumanization: Many of the whites who appear consider blacks to be a separate and bestial species. One woman even claims that they cannot feel pain.
- Depraved Dwarf: The black dwarf at the slave auction who seems to be obsessed with breasts.
- Depraved Homosexual: One man at the slave auction takes far too much pleasure in covering young black boys with gold and silver paint.
- Distant Finale: The film ends over 100 years in the future in the present day (i.e. The '70s), with a black man reading The Confessions of Nat Turner and fantasizing (American Psycho style) about killing white people.
- Happiness in Slavery: The documentarians run into a well-dressed and apparently educated slave in a cage who gives them a quasi-Marxist speech in support of slavery, enraging them.
- Historical Domain Character: Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Samuel Cartwright, the racist Confederate physician, appear.
- Karma Houdini: Virtually none of the characters receive any form of punishment for their horrendous crimes against humanity.
- Mad Scientist: The bizarre, masked "veterinarian" who appears early in the film gives off definite shades of this. Samuel Cartwright, a real life white supremacist "scientist" who explained anything other than complete submissive servility as the symptoms of disease and invented many torture devices to "cure" them, also makes an appearance.
- Shout-Out: One poster carries the tagline "It was part of the birth of a nation."
- Sinister Minister: A monocled preacher gives a fiercely pro-slavery sermon at one point.
- Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: The main conceit of the film. But as Roger Ebert points out in his review, the film fails in this regard by condemning slavery as inhumane and cruel while at the same time practically revelling in scenes of cruelty and inhumanity.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Slave owners do not consider black people human, which apparently justifies treating them worse than animals.