ShakaRa Speaks On It: Is Now the Time For a Film About Enslaved Afrikans Who Fought Back?

shakaRa_speaks_on_it

There is an old Afrikan saying: “Until the lion learns to tell its own History, tales of the hunt will continue to glorify the hunter.”

Today there is a popular narrative surrounding the Enslavement of Afrikan people. That narrative has three major stages:

  1.  Afrikan Kings & Chiefs sold their own people in to Slavery.
  2. Afrikans were enslaved.
  3. Europeans abolished Slavery, thereby freeing Afrikans.

The influx of Slavery/Civil Rights films that have come through Hollywood over the past year or so, generally go a long way to reinforcing this narrative. From “Django Unchained” (2012), to “Lincoln” (2012) “The Butler” (2013) and even more stellar efforts such as the celebrated “12 Years a Slave” (2013), the hand of salvation benevolently offered by either an individual European, or the system and society of the European “majority culture” is an ever present dynamic.

Arguably the biggest Blockbuster films prior to 12 Years a Slave were “Amistad” (1997)and “Amazing Grace”(2006), the latter taking full advantage on Britain’s attempt to revel in self righteous glory about being the first to abolish the so-called Slave Trade. The content of these films speak to the reality of non-Afrikan historians controlling the narrative of Afrikan’s enslavement. This story of the hunter provides the primary source for non-Afrikan film makers to translate to the big screen. Consequently, when Hollywood does decide to address the issue of Afrikan enslavement it does so by investing heavily in depictions of European governments, professionals and activists as the liberators of Afrikan people; solidifying a dynamic that some have referred to as “The White Saviour Industrial Complex”.

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Conversely, these film depict very little, if any initiative and self determined action on the part of the Afrikan enslaved. Africans often become a side show or the back drop for showcasing a shining “White Saviour”, remaining in a perpetual state of inertia until activated by the saviour’s noble deeds; and even where the story does focus more directly on a central African figure, the narrative is of an individual’s story, rather than a collective experience.

For nearly a decade, the world has waited with baited breath for the production and release of “Toussaint”, the biopic and would be directorial debut of well decorated thespian Danny Glover. Glover made it his mission to bring to life the story of  Toussaint Louverture, the famed leader of the Haitian revolution that abolished Slavery across the island in 1804. Despite a reported all star cast including Wesley Snipes, Don Cheadle, Angela Basset and the UK’s own Chiwetel Ejifor (to named but a few), he has had numerous set backs including this interesting revelation he made in Paris, 2006:

“Producers said, ‘It’s a nice project, a great project but where are the White heroes?”

This attempt at bringing the Lion’s Story to light would have obviously shifted the focus, making Afrikans the central force in the ending of Slavery and the liberating of themselves. To state the obvious, It appears Hollywood has a vested interest in not seeing this story come to light as it would certainly challenge the integrity of the popular narrative it supports. Still – Glover reported in The Guardian newspaper, May 2012 that plans to complete the venture are still very much alive.

Nevertheless, these examples make it clear that it is folly for Black people to expect accurate self affirming depictions of our history from Hollywood. It is therefore necessary to be guarded against over celebrating this recent influx, and the intention or ability it has to serve the need for a dignified portrayal of a matter as delicate as Afrikan Enslavement. Considering the suffering and sacrifice of those Afrikan ancestors, this history should be somewhat sacred ground. The kind that we who have inherited that legacy should be inspired to take responsibility for preserving and projecting and if we are to take on such a task, we do not have to look too far for the right kind of material.

Bringing The Haitian revolution to the big screen would be far from the highlighting of a singular obscure event. Revolts, Rebellions and Revolutions that overturned Slavery are as much a part of the history as the beating, whipping and torture our Ancestors encountered. Any narrative that routinely ignores this is ultimately degrading to Afrikan people. The story of Afrikan Enslavement can never truly be told while this aspect remains under played. So as a result. Let us remind ourselves of just a few examples that shed light on the resolute fighting spirit of our Ancestors.

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Palmares

Afrikans were dragged across the waters to be Enslaved in Brazil in the 1530’s, almost immediately; runaways began forming Maroon communities called Quilombo’s. The most famous of these Quilombo’s was Palmares. Established in 1605 by Afrikans of various West & Central Afrikan nations, Palmares was a self sufficient free state in Brazil that stood as a monument of defiance against slavery, at the height of the Slave Trade. The Free State was also known as Angola-Janga (Little Angola), and developed a society based upon the unified cultural expression of the various indigenous nations encompassed within it. Approximately the size of Portugal, it housed around 30, 000 people at its peak. Not satisfied to simply runaway and live free, Quilombo warriors would frequently raid plantations in order to free more Afrikans and in a display of remarkable resolve and military prowess, the people of Palmares were able to defend their borders from attacks by Dutch and Portuguese armies for nearly 100 years. Zumbi, the most famous of its leaders valiantly fought the Portuguese for 15 years, entirely disrupting the system of Slavery, before his death and the eventual fall of Palmares in 1695.

Chief Takyi

As suggested by the title, Takyi (pronounced Ta-kee) was himself one of many Chiefs, kidnapped on the shores of what would be present day Ghana. He was later Enslaved on the Island of Jamaica where he became a leader among the people known as Coromantee / Kormantine – proud and highly skilled Afrikans primarily of Akan heritage. Takyi himself was Ga, and was blessed with an intellect and eloquence that saw him become the head man on the Plantation. He used his position to organize Afrikans on various plantations including his own and on Easter Monday 1760, Takyi and his warriors began their rebellious campaign, executing Slave masters and burning down Plantations in their wake. The campaign lasted at least three months, during which time Takyi is said to have led the most anti-Slavery wars in Jamaican history. The ultimate aim of these Afrikans was to totally overthrow British rule and establish a traditional Afrikan Nation on the Island. But for the betrayal of one loyal to the master, they would have succeeded. Takyi died fighting.

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The Haitian Revolution

Kicked off in 1791, this monumental Revolution was to be the culmination of on going rebellions that had begun ever since the invasion of the island and the enslavement of Afrikan people on its shores.

Priest and Priestess, Boukman Dutty and Cécile Fatiman began the revolt with a 7 day Vudun ceremony, during which they exulted the warriors to “throw away the image of the white man’s god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice of liberty that sings in all our hearts”. Weeks later, thousand of estates and Plantations were burned to the ground, their owners put to the blade.

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Toussaint Louverture is the most celebrated leader of the revolution; his military prowess would see him defeat the might of the great Napoleon Bonaparte – an army

that was considered invincible across Europe. As if this were not remarkable enough, Toussaint followed by Jean-Jacques Dessalines the Ferocious, would also defeat the armies of Spain and Britain, who along with France, made up the three super powers of the day. Dessalines withstood guns, cannons, Slave ships and even man eating dogs to declare Haiti Independent in January 1804. British soldiers would report that they could not win the war because “we are not fighting men, we are fighting ghosts”.

Dessalines first act was to outlaw slavery, declaring Haiti a free Black state and it is widely believed that he and his general had plans to board ships and travel to Afrika in order to go to war with the European slave ships on the coast and thereby abolish Slavery. Though this plan did not take place, the Haitian Revolution stands as the key event that broke the back of western nations and their Slave Trade ambitions. Suddenly, ‘abolition’ became the number one item on the agenda of British parliament.

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Yaa Asantewaa

Following the so-called abolition of the so-called Slave Trade (yes both “so-calleds” are necessary) in 1807, Britain would show its hypocrisy by being one of many European nations to engage in the consistent invasion of Afrika, in order to establish Colonialisation. This period saw the rise of many Warrior Kings & Queens – Yaa Asantewaa is among the most stellar. Famed for gathering the women of Asante at a time when the men were depleted by ongoing Colonial wars she vowed to “Fight the white man until the last of us dies on the battle field”;  and that’s she did. In to her 50’s and 60’s Yaa Asantewaa stood as a warrior, leading a rebellion against the British who had laid siege to the sacred city of Kumasi. Her aim was to completely free the Asante people of British invasion and conquest. Eventually she was captured and sent to exhile in the Seychelles where she passed away. On the retune of the exiled King Prempeh, in 1924 the order was given to return her remains for proper burial. Yaa Asantewaa thus remains as a primary symbol of anti-Colonialism to this very day.

So there are numerous stories to choose from. This is by far not an exhaustive list. I have not touched on the over 500 reported revolts that took place on ships, before even reaching the Americas. I have not touched on the many Kings, Chiefs and Priests who fought wars in a refusal to have their people subjected to Slavery.

But what is clear is that our Afrikan Ancestors were not passive acceptors of Slavery, nor were they passive participants in its ending. They made sure that European enslavers and invaders paid a heavy cost for sustaining such a system, and effectively dismantled it. If history is to reflect truth, these Rebellions were a far more significant factor in the eventual ending of Chattel Slavery than any act of Parliament, any amendment in the USA constitution or any well intentioned deed by a white man toward an enslaved Afrikan.

It is my humble opinion that we should not expect Hollywood to tell these stories, these are our stories to tell, and we should take great pride and honour in telling them. The challenge therefore, is for Black writers, directors and producers to take up the mission of bringing these stories to life on the big screen, Black audience’s sanctioning this effort and Black people as a whole becoming the Lion’s & Lionesses determined to tell our own tale.

 

ShakaRa Speaks On  It by @ShakaRaBKS for the british blacklist

8 Comments

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  3. 09 March 14, 7:51pm

    Thank you, SkakaRa. Keep the information flowing.

  4. ShakaRa says
    05 March 14, 1:36pm

    Wow. Apologies all. I am literally JUST seeing the responses.

    Thanking you all for taking the time to read and give feedback. VERY much appreciated!

    In particular Robin Walker. Had no idea you were reading. Its an real honour to learn that!

    Thank you once again!!!

  5. Carla says
    21 February 14, 12:16am

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. Thank you.

  6. Natron Nehisi says
    19 February 14, 7:42am

    Inspirational writing. I feel a wind/force packed with our ancestors in it when you articulate your pages brother. My first night back on the net for a long time & this how far you raise the bar. BACKIN DAT 100%!

  7. Tuggs says
    12 February 14, 4:56pm

    Another phenomenal article. GOOD JOB!

  8. 12 February 14, 4:08pm

    Greetings ShakaRa

    The quality of your blogs are astonishing – well thought through, razor sharp thinking and original! Keep em coming!

    Robin

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