Jamaican producer talks ‘African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey’
Docufilm airs Heroes Weekend
One of the concerns of award-winning, Jamaica-born film-maker Roy T. Anderson is that “our stories were not being told properly”. Always possessing a curious mind and with a goal to “give justice to our people”, Anderson has brought to life the real story of Jamaica’s first national hero, Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
His docufilm, African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey, has been a journey that has taken him to places, including Canada, the UK, Jamaica, Africa and Costa Rica, where Division 300 in Limón is the most active Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) division in the world.
“I appreciated Garvey before, but I have a deeper appreciation now of all that this man was able to achieve,” Anderson told T he Sunday Gleaner. “Garvey affects and influences from the little boy in the streets to the top leaders in Africa. He was a catalyst for the African leaders who led their countries to independence.”
He noted that Garvey’s signature “up you mighty race” was a clarion call to the black man to reclaim his best self and not be left out of mainstream society.
One hour and 25 minutes long, African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey is both riveting and redemptive. It accords Garvey all the honour of which he is truly deserving.
“Who would have thought that a simple country boy, born 50 years after the abolition of slavery, would go on to provide the most comprehensive blueprint for the liberation of his people. The black man’s messiah was born Malcus Mosiah Garvey; he later changed his name to Marcus,” the narrator, Emmy-award winning actor Keith David ( Greenleaf, Mr & Mrs Smith, Crash) says early in the feature-length documentary film that “chronicles the life and legacy of the world’s foremost pan-Africanist, considered by many to be the greatest mass leader of the 20th century”.
For the non-scholars of Garveyism, African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey is a textbook chock-full of information, as Anderson and his team peel away the layers for this exposé.
Anderson shared that budget only allowed for a visit to one country in Africa, and he chose Ghana. “Kwame Nkrumah revered Garvey, and the black star in the Kenyan flag pays tribute to the Black Star Liner, founded in 1919 by Marcus Garvey as part of the Back-to-Africa movement,” he explained.
Nkrumah, the first prime minister and president of Ghana, led the Gold Coast to independence from Britain in 1957. The Black Star Line modelled its name on that of the White Star Line, changing the colour from white to black to symbolise ownership by black people rather than white people. The black star became a symbol of pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism. In the docufilm, the narrator notes, “The story of the Black Star Line is the story of the possibilities that it inspired in black people .... and the first black FBI agents were hired to infiltrate the Black Star Line.”
Smoothly interjecting that it was a Trinidadian, Sylvester Williams, who coined the term pan-African, Anderson spoke briefly of his interview with Samia Nkrumah, daughter of Kwame.
“It was very emotional for Samia who I interviewed at the mausoleum. I am a film-maker who likes to immerse myself in the journey of the people I am writing about,” he said.
Recalling how this docufilm came in the making, Anderson shared that as far back as 2014, he was contacted by Garvey’s son, Dr Julius Garvey. “He reached out to me after my first film Akwantu [an award-winning docufilm on the Jamaican Maroons], about doing a documentary since it was the 100th anniversary of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. But I was finishing up work on Nanny, and I had to tell him that I couldn’t do it at the time. Fortunately, we reconnected, and several conversations led to the framework.”
Anderson, who hails from Ridge Pen in St Elizabeth, “about 10 km from Black River”, has a day job as a stuntman, recalled his simple childhood in Jamaica. “We went to school barefoot, as we grew up with a lack of means. It was a time of innocence where excitement was hearing the engine of a car far down the road. I left Jamaica in the ‘70s to join my mum and dad in Canada. I got into the stunt industry in 1981, and this is not really for the faint of heart. I have seen people get hurt and even die. These young buds, I tell them everything – you need the right mindset, good hand-eye coordination and luck,” he emphasised.
In his powerful director statement about the film, Anderson said, in part: “For all his greatness, Marcus Garvey has often been portrayed as a caricature, and someone marginalised by history. Foremost in our minds was telling a story of this oft-misunderstood man, in a way that was not only objective and balanced, but insightful and engaging. Our film sheds light on the world’s foremost pan-Africanist, and look at the extraordinary achievements of a great man considered by many as the greatest mass leader of the 20th century, as expressed to us by noted scholars, public officials, and laypersons. The story unfolds in places like the Caribbean and Central America, Europe, and the North American continent; it also takes place on the African continent where, sadly, Marcus Garvey was not permitted by colonial officials to set foot. Our visual style for the film blends live action with breathtaking still photography, archival images, and illustrations to provide a window into the life of a man rarely seen in contemporary culture. Garvey’s omniscient voice and oratory are the spine that hold these story elements together.”
The docufilm is interspersed with interviews and conversations with those who have been touched by the philosophy of Marcus Garvey, among them reggae artistes Sean Paul and David Hinds, lead singer for Steel Pulse; award-winning American actors Louis Gossett, Jr and Danny Glover; retired United States Congressman Charles Rangel; Leonard Jeffries, past chairman City College of New York; Samia Nkrumah, Professor Carolyn Cooper and Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of The University of the West Indies.
African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey will air in two parts on TVJ. The first part will air on Sunday, October 17, with the conclusion on Heroes Day, Monday, October 18. PBCJ will broadcast the full documentary on its cable channel on Heroes Day.
Heritage Week is being observed from Sunday, October 10 to Heroes Day, Monday, October 18, under the theme ‘Saluting Our Heroes... Safeguarding Our Legacy’.