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This project was successfully funded on March 8, 2017


by The Ann[a] Team



We seek support to complete production of Ann[a], a twenty-minute, animated historical film on one of the most well-known events in the history of slavery in the early republic.

Your support will fund the production of the animation. Nothing more, nothing less.

In November 1815, Anna leapt from the third-floor window of George Miller's F Street tavern in Washington, D.C., after she was sold to Georgia traders and separated from her family. Abolitionist writers seized on her story, depicting her act as an attempted suicide. For two hundred years, her identity and her ultimate fate remained unknown. In 2015, we discovered her petition for freedom filed in the Circuit Court for D.C. Her name was Ann Williams, and she recovered from the fall, mothered four more children, and won her court case to gain her freedom in 1832. This animated film and the accompanying website tell her complete story for the first time, dramatize the historical complexity of enslavement, and place her resistance to enslavement in its full context.

We are a collaborative team of historians, artists, filmmakers, and creative writers using deeply researched historical analysis to render an aesthetically appealing, innovative, and widely accessible form of animation.


Why  (video)

Why this medium for this story? We seek to use our technique of live action animation first to experiment in form of history—can we use animation to reveal the full human and historical drama about one of the most difficult subjects we face? Second, we decided to pursue animation because we have refined a technique that we think can have wide impact and remain faithful to the craft and art of history. Animation allows us to broach the violence and terror of enslavement for a wide range of audiences. Finally, films such as Twelve Years a Slave have portrayed the violence, cruelty, and pain of slavery with unflinching realism. We propose an equally dramatic and historically accurate rendering of this subject. Far from lessening our senses, animation can elevate them and move audiences in ways that conventional film might not. Our project not only repositions Anna's important story in the scholarship of slavery and abolition but also uses animation and live action techniques to reach new audiences for the humanities. What follows here is based on original unpublished research and provides the fullest account to date of Ann's actions.The news of Anna's alleged suicide attempt spread across the city in early December and eventually reached Jesse Torrey, a physician from Philadelphia who was visiting Washington three weeks later. Shocked by her tale and the slave coffles he was seeing in the nation's new capital, Torrey heard that she had broken her back and both arms. Rumors circulated that she had died from the fall. Even the most recent scholarly treatment of slavery in the United States concluded incorrectly that she died from her injuries.

To an astonishing degree two hundred years later, we can verify accounts that were once criticized as fiction. Parsing the legal records with the published sources, it turns out that Ann Williams followed a long-term strategy for freedom, one that began with her resistance to being sold and "brought away," and ended in a courtroom before jurors, judges, attorneys, and witnesses. Although all of these participants had widely divergent purposes, as we will see, Ann Williams gained her freedom in the end. Her story was more than a single "frantic" act, and her actions were far more calculated and intentional than those who wrote about her were willing to admit. Rather than running away, she fought slavery in one place, accumulating allies, resources, and standing in the community, even as Key and others sought to use her story to advocate for a particular vision of antislavery politics. Her strategy focused her family and belonging, and it runs counter to a widely accepted understanding both then and now of slave resistance as maleled and insurrectionary.

Ann's full story remained untold for so long that its recovery changes the way we understand the entire event and every thing about it. Rather than a hopeless suicide attempt in the face of slavery, rather than an object of pity as the abolitionist literature portrayed “Anna,” her leap from the window could have been a leap toward freedom, toward husband, toward family, toward belonging, toward a future with her children. In the hands of her abolitionist interlocutors, Ann Williams was rendered a figure of pity and sympathy. But when we look more deeply in the archives and piece together her actions from the scattered bits of the historical record, we begin to see the carefully wrought decisions to organize her family, and her resilience, decisiveness, strength, and purpose.

What will your support fund?

* You will directly be supporting the production of animation with salaries for 3 assistant animators. (See their bios below)

* Paint, brushes, and rags

What we won't do with your support?

* We won't pay ourselves

* We won't buy hardware/equipment

What the animators will do

Thier job is to rotoscope animate every frame of footage  Rotoscoping is when you film actors and trace each frame of the footage in paint.  It takes a long time. Here's how it's done.

1. A camera is pointed at a glass or paper surface.  

2. Footage of actors are imported to a computer program and displayed on a screen that lets you see both the footage and the surface at the same time.   

3.The animator traces each frame of the footage in paint.

4.The animation is placed back over footage and an etched effect is added


5. Watch this video to see one of our previous animators in action (Video Jacy Lewis Daily Nebraskan)

Meet Our Team

Kwakiutl Dreher  (screen writer)         

Associate Professor's Profile Image 

is Associate Professor English and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She earned a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of South Carolina-Columbia and her Master's Degree from Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Dreher received her PhD from the University of California-Riverside. She conducts research in African American literature, including auto/biography, film, visual, and popular culture, and mass marketed popular literature. She published Dancing on the White Page: Black Women Entertainers Writing Autobiography with SUNY press in 2008. In summer 2010, she presented her work on her maiden international tour of Dancing on the White Page in Europe.

William G. Thomas III (co-producer, lead scholar)

 Professor of History and John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities Profile Image

 is John and Catherine Angle Professor in the Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a 2016-2017 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow. He served as Chair of the Department of History at Nebraska from 2010 to 2016 and a Faculty Fellow of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. Thomas's research and writing endeavor to demonstrate the full capability of digital scholarship to give voice to people whose lives have been out of reach and to send their histories into the public and scholarly realms through digital media. He served as the co-founder and director of the Virginia Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia, where he was an assistant and associate professor of history in the Corcoran Department of History. He was a co-editor the award-winning digital project, Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War. With Edward L. Ayers, he co-authored "The Differences Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities," one of the first pieces of digital scholarship published in the American Historical Review. In 2008 he was awarded a Digital Innovation Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and he has received numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has also published essays in Civil War History, The Journal of Historical Geography, The New York Times, EDUCAUSE Review, and Inside Higher Education. His previous books include The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America (Yale University Press, 2011), a shortlist finalist in 2012 for the Lincoln Prize. Thomas is a graduate of Trinity College (Connecticut) and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Virginia. He currently serves on the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Kalari Flotree (material culture researcher)
 Kalari Flotree


Kalari Flotree is an AssistantProfessor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at PittsburgState University. She also serves as the department's Fashion Merchandising Program Coordinator. Kalari teaches a range of courses including undergraduate courses in fashion buying and merchandising, apparel evaluation, and dress and culture. Her research interests include influencers, fashion blogs, culture-specific beauty practices, and emerging media. Kalari has also worked in the apparel industry in the areas of product development, visual merchandising, and retail.

Michael Burton  (co-producer, and lead animator)              

Michael Burton portrait photo

is an assistant professor of practice in the Department of Textiles, Merchandising, and Fashion design at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Michael's work combines painting and animation to create scenes that recover the stories of people with extraordinary pasts. He most recently completed animations for a PBS documentary about a Sioux family whose patriarchs fought in WWI and Vietnam, toured with Buffalo Bill, and survived the Fort Robinson Massacre of 1879. The project was funded by ITVS, NET television, and Vision Maker Media. Michael has screened his animations at the Denver Art Museum, RISD Art Museum, Joslyn Art Museum, the Sheldon Art Museum and at the Anchorage International Film Festival.

Kaci Nash (web and humanities assistant researcher)   


Kaci Nash
is the Research Associate in the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of Kansas and earned a Master’s Degree in History with a Certificate in the Digital Humanities from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For the past four years, Nash has worked as project manager on the digital history project O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law & Family ( with William G. Thomas III, conducting archival and digital research, transcribing and encoding historical records for the web, and maintaining the project’s website. She will continue to provide research assistance on the historical details of the film and help design, implement, and maintain the website that will accompany the film.
Rhea Gill (Outreach through Arts Are Basic)
Rhea has been an arts educator for the last 21 years acting as a performing artist, teaching artist and arts presenter. She holds a Bachelor of Fine & Performing Arts in dance from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a Masters of Management with an emphasis in International Business from Doane University. Rhea is the director of Arts Are Basic. AAB provides training, hands-on arts experiences and attendance by students to high-quality performances. The mission of AAB is to put artists and their works central to learning. AAB fosters the development of aesthetic education as an important part of learning through the formation of long-term partnerships with schools and after-school programs; the aesthetic dimensions of the human experience are explored through encounters with a broad spectrum of performances and visual arts. In order to serve teachers, after school staff and students fully, AAB serves as a catalyst not only to create a greater aesthetic awareness of the world but also to foster greater understanding of the world’s people through culturally specific arts.
Thalia Rodgers (assistant animator)
is a senior student at the University of Nebraska pursuing a Bachelors of Fine Art in painting.  She is interested in urban art, particularly artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat.  Thalia is from Omaha Nebraska.
Imani Brown (assistant animator)
is a sophomore student at the University of Nebraska pursuing a Bachelors of Fine Art. She plans to pursue a career in animation after completing her degree. Imani is from Omaha Nebraska.
Brian Coate (assistant animator)
Brian is a University of Nebraska alumni.  He received his Bachelors of Fine Art in 2016 with an emphasis in painting. He is interested in in social activism and human rights and baroque and mannerist painting. Brian is from Omaha, Nebraska.
Maura Gillan (campaign communications)
 is a junior student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln pursuing a degree in fashion communications. Maura is interested in this project to learn more about Ann's story and help communicate with a wide audience. She is from Lincoln, Nebraska.