Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Review of "Global NATO And The Catastrophic Failure in Libya"

Review of Global NATO And the Catastrophic Failure in Libya by Horace Campbell (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013). Within twenty one chapters, Horace Campbell makes a convincing case that the North Atlantc Treaty Organization (NATO) is “a rogue military entity outside the bounds of the prejudices of a democratic society” (187). This military entity essentially serves the financial and military interests of Washington and Wall Street by advancing U.S. imperialism in North Africa. NATO is the scapegoat the Obama administration used as of March 19, 2011, to militarily occupy North Africa, assassinate Moamar Gadafi all under Obama’s historic claim that there are “no boots on the ground.” In his preface, Campbell stated that his book is written as one effort “to link the global anti-imperialist movement in finding new ways to cooperate” (13). His book is a necessary tool for anti-imperialists within the West who seek to understand arguments by African intellectuals that are ignored by the Western media and academia who “presented the Libyan intervention as a major success” (30). His book argues the opposite and its title comes from a quote by Seumas Milne that the Libyan intervention was in fact “a catastrophic failure.” He writes that African intellectuals wrote that: “the governments of the United States, Britain, and France had no interest in a peaceful and inclusive resolution of the Libyan conflict. Rather their objective was to replace Colonel Gadafi’s regime with a Western client state , regardless of the cost and consequences for the people of Libya” (33). Consisting of twenty one chapters, each point to the unique role that Gadafi’s resource nationalism played in the multifaceted U.S. colonial presence in Libya. The first three chapters describe how NATO formed on April 4, 1949 as an alliance of only five countries—Belgium, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and the United States—to defend Western Europe against the Soviet Union (38). However since then it expanded seven times to twenty eight nations in 2009. It now exists, especially during the imminent deployment of troops to the Ukraine, in Campbell’s words, to “protect ‘globalized’ capital” (40). After Libya’s 1970s nationalization of oil that was a precursor to Iranian nationalization in 1979 and Saudi Arabia’s full takeover of Aramco in the mid 1980s, Campbell ultimately shows how NATO acted to essentially counter this growing trend of resource nationalism in oil rich producing countries. The next three chapters describe the tactical errors that Gadafi made, from Campbell’s Pan-African perspective in not utilizing the wisdom of the African intellectuals he quoted in his Preface. Libya’s loss of resource nationalism was steady and ended precipitously with the 2011 NATO invasion. Campbell essentially argues that the intellectual apparatus of the Libyan leadership was hollow and how consequently, the Gadafi family “went all out to ingratiate itself with Washington and the associated networks of U.S. capitalism” (54). In 2003, the Libyan government entered into agreements with the IMF and privatized offshore land and resources that were formerly owned by the state: “Gadafi had enabled the imperial intelligence services by sharing information, financing their governments, purchasing junk equipment as weaponry, and cooperating with their intelligence agencies” (65). Wikileaks cables reveals that Gadafi intended to enact resource nationalism on Western oil companies by “forcing them to renegotiate their contracts,” and that this “created a dangerous international precedent” (60). This prompted Western leaders of Britain, France and the United States to lobby the United Nations Security Council to pass Resolution 1973 that invokes a “responsibility to protect” the citizens of Libya which essentially criminalized Gadafi’s leadership. Campbell shows how these Western leaders use the U.N. to serve the interests of private Western capital that worked within the Gulf Cooperation Council against Gadafi (75). The military invasion was enabled by imperial intelligence which Gadafi himself initiated while having a hollow intellectual apparatus. This book becomes a cautionary tale for any Pan African leader about the danger of excessive ingratiation to the West without a sufficient intellectual apparatus. The next three chapters describes the Western intellectual and media apparatus that justified the NATO invasion and bombing of Libya. Campbell describes current Samantha Power “as a journalist without serious historical training” who was “elevated to a professorship at Harvard” based on her media exposure (69). With Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, she promoted the NATO bombing of Libya. Western companies like the American Bechtel, Germany’s KWE, and France’s Veolia, which is now in a significant struggle with Boston Local 8751 over wages, have been calling for “privatization of water resources” and the end to resource nationalism (91). Campbell writes that the Libyan leadership, devoid of a structured intelligentsia, spent millions of dollars to finance the election of Sarkozy who since this book’s printing was jailed by France in 2014 over campaign finance violations. From March 19 to October 2011, Campbell writes that NATO carried out 9,700 bombing mission which made an average of 150 air strikes per day, “killing hundreds—if not thousands—of people” (119). Meanwhile in the United States, the “corporate media worked to marginalize any opposition in U.S. society to relentless bombing of Libya” (127). While Amy Goodman did interview Campbell, she strategically ignored the anti-imperialist perspective of Cynthia McKinney who visited Libya personally. Goodman in Demoracy Now! ignored McKinney’s and others reporting on Libya that countered her own reporting sympathetic to the NATO bombing. In the next six chapters Campbell details several important developments: the disagreements within NATO the various methods the West used to occupy Libya including propaganda. Campbell writes that of the twenty eight member states “the majority refused to participate in this military operation” (121). However the NATO occupation of Libya did not only include a military. It “depended on drones, special forces, intelligence assets, and private military contracts working with regional militias” (148). Citing the 82-page report by Human Rights Watch, Campbell argues that while the entire propaganda was based on the idea of protecting civilians, “it was clear that the NATO operation was not for a no-fly zone, but for regime change” (157). Campbell deconstructs the myth that dark skinned Libyans during this conflict were “Gadafi’s African mercenaries” quoting the chairman of the Commission of the African Union, Jean Ping who said “Blacks are being accused of being mercenaries...Sometimes when they are white, they call them technical advisors” (166). In the sixteenth chapter, “The Execution of Gadafi,” Campbell calls the assassination a violation of the Geneva Convention and describes how NATO’s press release distanced itself from the assassination. NATO’s overall purpose was “to allow the Western powers “to regain ground lost in Tunisia and Egypt” after the 2010 Arab Spring: “Western countries dictated that the new Libyan leadership follow the path of the IMF” (182,191). Campbell’s arguments here are vindicated by the Smith College students who protested Christine Lagarde speaking at their commencement. In the next four chapters, Campbell details exactly how the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Libya was a catastrophic failure, from the death of U.S. Ambassador James Stevens, to the resignation of U.S. General David Petraeus. He attributes the death of Stevens to “inter-militia warfare” not “demonstrations” that the Western media claimed (213). He describes the U.S. military culture as one of “deception” that emanates from “a sense of excessive pride and arrogance” that believes that “the United States could unilaterally lead preemptive wars and that the world would…be safer with U.S. leadership” (222). Campbell makes a slightly revisionist claim when he writes that the U.S. has “escaped” the worst aspect of fascist ideas (251). This book argues otherwise. So does Christopher Simpson in his book Blowback that details a kind of American recruitment of Nazis after the Second World War similar to the collusion of Libyan Khalifa Hifter that Campbell describes. Paul Robeson in a 1960 interview with the New Zealand People’s Voice described NATO as a “fascist” organization in content. Campbell’s exhaustive research supports this and exposes the serious limitations of U.S. foreign policy. In his conclusion, Campbell writes that resource nationalism continues to be a threat to European domination of Africa and that “there can be no guarantee that the well laid plans of Western military planners along with Israel, will end up favorably for Western Europe and North America” (256,265). This supports a central claim he makes in his Introduction, that “from the work of Kwame Nkrumah to the stewardship of Nelson Mandela, there has been one overriding principle: Africans must dictate the pace and rate of the unification and freedom of Africa” (33).

Sunday, August 31, 2014

On Directing Readings At The X

A photo of myself, Ted Lange, and singer Juno Brown. Photo by Dorian Hall. I had an amazing time directing the series of seven plays every Tuesday from Tuesday, July 7th to Tuesday, August 28th. It was a cathartic experience for me that taught me about my sincere ambition to direct, produce, or support historical plays. Not enough of them are produced. All too often, stories on stage about the Black experience written by Black writers become musicals. I am not sure that Lorraine Hansberry would have approved of the drama based on her own life experiences being turned into a musical. Her work, like each of these plays, like the art that Malcolm X encouraged, was about raising the race and class consciousness of its audience. For this reason, I learned especially after directing my plays, the importance of brevity, and the power of nonverbal physical performance that can convey a meaningful message better than any words. The first play I directed this summer was the first of Ted Lange’s trilogy called “George Washington’s Boy,” about George Washington’s slave Billy who is convincing his owner George Washington to free him. Two important dynamics are raised in this play: the dependence of Billy on George to essentially approve his marriage to Margaret, and Martha’s enslaved Oney Judge’s escape that Billy is unable to emulate Oney and escape and descends into alcoholism after suffering a leg injury. Washington on his death bed tells Billy never to look back. We got to read this play in its entirety, which featured Gerson Alexander as George Washington, Aaron Bell as Billy, James Stankunas as Alexander Hamilton, and Baset as Margaret and Oney Judge. This was the only night of the eight weeks that we did not get to read the play in its entirety because a torrential storm descended on the gazebo we read in. So, we finished up to the middle of the second act, when Washington is preparing for his battle at Trenton. The second play we read, called “Unity Valley” and written by myself, picks up where we left off historically, on George Washington’s deathbed in December 1799, except this time the setting is exclusively in the meetinghouse of Richard Allen’s then newly formed Bethel A.M.E. Church. This play “Unity Valley” was a fictional account based on David Barclay’s actual 1803 pamphlet “An Account of Slaves At Unity Valley Pen in Jamaica,” and was an opportunity for me to hear the play for a second time get read. Because of the rain in the forecast, we read this piece in the same place where we rehearsed, which is in my home. Tiffany Barrett read the role of Amelia; Carlene Taylor read Mintas; Shayne Powell read Prince; Eric Holte read Simon; Julian Brelsford read Lemaitre; Susan Chast read Granger; and Arnold Kendall read David Barclay. This reading taught me that I had one structural adjustment to make in terms of changing a georgraphical location in the last few pages of the piece. But a dramatic breakthrough with the performance of this play came through for me in the aggressiveness of Prince at the very end of this play. Directing Prince’s final bold act at the end was important for me to see in terms of the direction that the work had to go in. I believe this is one of those plays that would take off dramatically with the right director and the right production to convey the message, and that message is concerned with the reality that, for some free Blacks in Philadelphia at the death of George Washington, the Haitian Revolution was in fact a magnet and an ideal place to be, and in order to get there, one had to take great risks. The third play of this series, read on Tuesday, July 22nd was the second of Ted Lange’s trilogy called “The Journals of Osborne Anderson.” This play presents in dramatic stage form the experience of revolutionary John Brown from the perspective and from the journals of Osborne Anderson. I have been teaching African American History for five semesters now at Delaware County Community College and one of the narratives I teach the class is an excerpt of Osborne Anderson, so when I discovered that Ted Lange had written a play dedicated to him, around last summer, I was excited to have the opportunity to direct this. I think that there are key dramatic moments in this play that cannot be missed. One is the suspenseful setup that Lange writes at the very beginning of this play. This setup between Doyle, a border ruffian, and Stevens, an antislavery soldier is set up first to get the audience to sympathize with John Brown’s army. The audience essentially roots for the success of John Brown’s army, and wants to see Brown’s army succeed and abolition completed. However obstacles get in the way. The main obstacle the audience is set up to hate is the Virginia militia who surround the firehouse that Brown and his collaborators are trapped in. Lange also presents Frederick Douglass as a prominent character in this play may not directly participate in Brown’s attack on the Confederate arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, but who ultimately provides material support for it, in terms of a space and in terms of soldiers. The first act deals with very serious questions about social change that are incredibly relevant today: whether social change can come about by the means of moral suasion that Douglass practiced or whether it can come about by the means of armed revolution that John Brown practiced. However the beauty of Lange’s play as a director for me is dealing with Black men who believed that armed revolution was the best way to bring about social change. Lange’s John Brown not only believed this. Osborne Anderson, Shields Green, John Copeland, and Dangerfield Newby believed this as well, and Lange exposes the difference of opinion between each of them. As a former Oberlin college student, John Copeland makes it his duty to correct his grammar. The most powerful drama for me in this play which came out in the reading is the exchanges between the former Oberlin student John Copeland the the nephew of George Washington, Lewis Washington, also read by Gerson Alexander. Lewis is mortified that he becomes a prisoner to Brown and his army and treads thin ice with the gun-toting Copeland who is ready to shoot him if he dares call Copeland the n-word again. The power of this play is the noble way that Ted Lange writes John Brown’s resignation to his death. His last powerful line is one that recalls the beautiful intellect of George Jackson: “the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” Ted Lange writes John Brown very nobly. Lange raises the issue that I raised in my dissertation, that social change in America can only happen when individuals, psychologically divorced from racism, have a strong enough race consciousness and class consciousness to work ACROSS race, as John Brown and Osborne Anderson did, to end class oppression. Slavery was class oppression in the South. This has an interesting comparison with how Dominic Taylor wrote the life of Osborne Anderson. Osborne Anderson was read memorably by Brian Anthony Wilson. The reading by Norman Marshall as John Brown was incredible. Elizabeth Michaels as his second wife Mary Brown was absolutely incredible and exposed the very tender moments of John Brown. The second act of this play dealt with the trial of John Brown and his subsequent hanging. The drama is raised to a higher pitch when the mother of John Copeland, Delilah Copeland, read by Meryl Lynn Brown, discovers that the state of Virginia confiscated her son’s body for medical purposes. At the end of the play I believe we are led to see Osborne Anderson and John Brown as noble men who worked across racial lines to foment class revolution. The fourth play read in this series was a play that I saw first in 2011 at the Audubon Ballroom and I fell in love with. It is called “Voices From Harper’s Ferry” and it is written by Dominic Taylor and it is a beautiful homage to Osborne Anderson. The play opens with in the 1870s with two DC policemen kicking an unidentified body, that we later discover to be Osborne Anderson. The middle of the play and the meat of the play is learning more about how Osborne Anderson came to be. I decided to stage this reading in a way where Osborne takes center stage. The first act is concerned with the raid on Harper’s Ferry and features a serious dramatic conflict between Dangerfield Newby whom Taylor writes with more agency than Lange. Taylor also fleshes out Shields Green and gives him a distinct Senegalese identity as well as a very vivid memory of being raped that can only in my opinion be played very seriously. The first act ends with the raid, and the second act picks up in a very creative way, with those who are deceased speaking to Osborne Anderson in his head, as he was the lone survivor of that raid. I had Newby, Green, and Copeland walk around Anderson who is sitting in a chair, and I think this brought home better the message Taylor was sending behind the kind of meaning that these men had in Anderson’s life, that has not been emphasized before. This play is also infused with song and Taylor shows in it how songs are used as codes to undermine the institution of slavery. Walter Deshields read Osborne Anderson; Mitchell Little read Shields Green; Denzel Owens Pryor read Lewis Leary; Eric Holte read John Copeland; and Langston Darby gave a very memorable read as Dangerfield Newby. The fifth play we read was Ted Lange’s last of his trilogy called “Lady Patriot.” This was the play that brought Ted Lange to my attention as a playwright. It was critically acclaimed at the 2013 National Black Theater Festival and I wanted to read it. Where Lange’s play “The Journals of Osborne Anderson” focuses on the necessary interracial coalitions between MEN that brought about social change in America, Ted Lange’s “Lady Patriot” focuses on the necessary interracial coalitions between WOMEN that brought about social change in America, specifically between Mary Bowser the former servant to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Elizabeth Van Lew, the neighbor of President Davis, who collaborated with Bowser to give secrets about the plans of the Confederate Army to Union soldiers. The drama of this story unfolds when Davis’s trusted servant Old Robert follows order to tie Mary Bowser up after Varina Davis discovers her reading maps in Davis’s office. As he is tying her up, Mary Bowser, read by the powerful Uta Hagen/Ossie Davis-trained actress Zuhairah McGill tells Old Robert to be a man. Ted Lange directed me to make sure the drama is pulled out of this interaction. I shared that direction to Zuhairah in her being tied up by Old Robert, read perfectly by Eric Holte, and she did exactly that. It made for a powerful dramatic performance along with Lawrence Geller’s reading of Jefferson Davis; Melissa Amilani’s reading of Varina Davis, and Eric Dann reads the abolitionst reporter Slydell. The sixth play that was read was my play “Negro Principles” that was read in two parts on two separate Tuesdays: Act one on August 12th and Acts two and three on August 19th. This play is based on my research of the personal and political life of A. Philip Randolph and Lucille Green Randolph. I learned from both of these readings, since my initial reading of it on February 5, 2011, that I have some editing to do. Gratefully, I have been in conversation this month with an historical dramatist whom I respect very deeply, whose work is produced across the country and across the world about getting a respectful complete production of my work. The first act is concerned with the asset that the character of Lee provides to Lucille’s Beauty and Barber shop. I discovered from this read that I wanted a lot of what is said to be directly relate to this asset. I think I found my Lee. I wrote Lee three years ago, wondering if an actor is out there capable of playing him, and I think I found him in Jaivon Lewis. He brought so much life to my character of Lee in his August 19th read, more so than his August 12th read. The first act of the play was concerned with exposing the asset of Lee and showing the economic and emotional asset he provided to THE main characters: Lucille Green Randolph and A. Philip Randolph. Lucille was read on August 12th in my home because it was raining in Malcolm X Park on that day, by the indomitable Caroline Stefanie Clay. She brought so much power to this role. Starletta DuPois, whom I first saw in the 1989 American Playhouse production of A Raisin in the Sun also starring Esther Rolle and Danny Glover performed my character of Audrey & Elizabeth Randolph in this play very very memorably. Alexander Elisa delivers an Asa that for me is the only Asa. His fluidity in capturing nuance of my words and emotions in a way that I know A. Philip Randolph would capture is like no other actor. The readings on these two nights of August 12th and August 19th taught me specifically where I need to edit, but more important, three years later, it taught me that I needed to have space between myself and this work in order to understand the value of editing it. In these readings, Lynnette R. Freeman read Delia Marshall; Walter Deshields read Howard; Meryl Lynn Brown read Mattie Powell; Mercedes Simmons read Sarah; Eric Holte read Clyde; Tanisha Saintvil read Florence and Ella on August 19th; Lena Lewis read Lucille on August 19th. The final reading of this play series was Momma Sandi’s powerful play “Stories From The Sister Circle.” I appreciated the opportunity to direct this play because it is the only play that deals so intimately about relationship issues between Black women in the Black family and it deals sensitively with the longer holocaust of African peoples that I believe this country fights very diligently to ignore and invalidate. This play centers on the relationship of a young woman, Saundra Yvette, with her mother and her efforts, alongside the efforts of her three aunts, to get her mother to stop drinking. I chose to stage this reading with Saundra Yvette’s mother Mary Alice, in the front and center of actors, in front of a table on which a bottle of alcohol sits. She occasionally drinks to the dismay of her sisters and daughter and who recall her and the memory of her funeral, Mary Alice’s funeral, in front of her. Probably one of the most meaningful responses I got to this reading was the response from my cousin Jason, who did not see Mary Alice’s alcoholism as a hindrance to her daughter but as a vehicle to invoke the storytelling ambitions of her sisters which was the traditional use of alcohol or rum in many of the Caribbean and West African religions. One of the stories in Momma Sandi’s that her sisters tell the audience and Saundra Yvette is the fertility of Anansi and how the women discovered “joy” down at the river. The stories in the end of this play become a healing ritual. Zuhairah unforgettably read the role of Mary Alice and has her own reckoning conversation with her daughter and her God about her drinking. This reckoning allows for Aunt Yaya, according to the words of sister Mama Clee, to feed her the waters of life, which allows for Mary Alice to find eternal healing from the pain resulting from the holocaust of African peoples, and also to show her daughter the importance of sharing painful experiences in bonds of sisterhood in order to survive. Mama Clee was read by Rebekah Hughston; Tamara Woods read Ethel Mae; Meryl Lynn Brown read Aunt Odessa; Eric Holte read the role of Crooner, Minister, and Lee Grant; Young Saundra was read by Mercedes Simmons and Older Saundra was read by Lena Lewis. Thank you to all the actors for making this possible. Thank you to Ted Lange whose play “Lady Patriot” inspired this reading series. Thank you to my co-director Rebekah Hughston. Thank you to the Friends of Malcolm X memorial Park. Thank you to Sharon Chestnut for conceiving the idea of the name "Readings At The X." Thank you so much ESPECIALLY to Mr. Gregory Cojolun of the Friends of Malcolm X Memorial Park for his help in making this reading series a reality. And to the funders of this reading series: Amy Kietzman, Scott Williams, Abigail Raymond, Adam Butler, and my dad Anserd Fraser. –RF.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

In Defense of Javed Jaghai

Photo of Javed Jaghai by Randy Risling of the Toronto Star “In Defense of Javed Jaghai” I am most ashamed of my Jamaican heritage as, on my sister’s birthday, August 30th, I read that Javed Jaghai has withdrew his legal challenge to overturn the anti-buggery or anti-sodomy laws of Jamaica. This is an absolute disgrace. Javed’s decision to do so is only a result of the colonial legacy which is a climate of fear and ignorance promulgated by Christian fundamentalism which flooded Jamaica in the 1980s. Where were these church leaders, who are able to rally hundreds, when Robert Pickersgill, the Minister of Government responsible for Water, Land, and Climate Change decided to sell thousands of Jamaican acres to China, instead of to local Jamaican business on August 6th? The date of so-called Jamaican independence? What were these church leaders doing when Jamaicans For Justice issued a report teaching about sexuality and the contraction of AIDS that was branded by Youth Minister and the Jamaica Gleaner as “controversial”? Why is teaching our youth basic facts about our sexuality considered “controversial”? Why do church and government leaders of Jamaica depend so heavily on an ignorant population? Compared to Cuba and Grenada, Jamaica apparently has light years to go in being truly independent from European rule. To be truly independent means rejecting the homophobic colonial laws that forbid sodomy and by understanding that Jamaica’s moral crisis is NOT the danger of homosexuality but the complete independence from English colonial laws. Jamaicans who castigate Javed Jaghai because of his sexuality suffer from what Frantz Fanon calls a “colonized mentality.” These are opponents to the true political, economic, and psychological liberation of the Jamaican people. They are colonized by Western society that teaches the most important priority of every individual man is to live only in a heterosexual partnership because that is the only kind of partnership that will procreate. According to the King James Bible, Jesus Christ himself did not procreate. Because of religious fundamentalism, the Jamaican mass has been deceived into thinking, like American conservative Christians, that our biggest moral crisis is stemming the spread of homosexuality. This is a farce that has been promulgated since the Cuban revolution as another Trojan horse the West uses to discourage nations from adopting Communism. Since the Cuban Revolution, American evangelicalism is America’s worst and most destructive psychological export. It is destructive because it teaches citizens of color to see themselves as souls to be saved for a Christ that serves ultimately Western capital. As James Baldwin said, “the people who call themselves ‘born again’ today have simply become members of the richest, most exclusive private club in the world, a club that the man from Galilee could not possibly hope—or wish—to enter.” Evidence in many of these churches of a so-called “blessing from God,” is conceived as a job or a house with some tie to Western capital that is systemically tied to denying ownership of resources to countries with majorities of color. I critique the Jamaican church movement in support of buggery laws as a Christian myself. I am critiquing the apparent vacuum in political education that these church leaders have about the legacy of English colonialism that encourages a young man to fight for a repeal of a colonial law meant to do two things: one, subjugate Black people, and two, procreate purely for the interest of wealth creation. Conservative Christians in Jamaica should understand that these laws were created in order to control and contain Black bodies more than they were to “save souls.” I have not seen a better form of protest against this colonial relationship than the Smith College students’ protest against IMF chair Christine Lagarde. I am hoping I will live long enough to see masses of Jamaicans protest for the same reason these Smith College students protested Christine Lagarde. But decades of Jamaican colonial leadership by the likes of Norman Manley who demanded that Black Power activist Walter Rodney be deported, and by Edward Seaga who encourages IMF dependence, has for over four decades now created a climate of thousands of people who believe, tragically, that their peaceful future is tied up in the hands of benevolent white men with money who will give that money based on how many “souls they save” or on how “well” they adopt a heteronormative religion rooted in white supremacy. This self-hating behavior needs to stop. I am so sorry for my friend, Javed, that he has to live in a society drowned in ignorance and fear that has grown because of the power of a “colonized bourgeoisie” that bases their own personal beliefs on a set of people who not only don’t practice what they preach, but who do so with the primary purpose of colonial subjugation. I consider Javed a visionary like Marcus Garvey who conceived of a new world. Garvey conceived a world where conscious Black men and women would own and control their own land and resources for the benefit of Black people. Sadly, he was ridiculed by his own ignorant Jamaican people. Their folly was exposed to the world when were blessed with the philosophy of Malcolm X as a result of the Garveyism practiced by his father. His philosophy effectively inspired independence movements all over Africa and the Caribbean. The King James Bible in Mark chapter 4 verse 6 says that “a prophet is not without honor except in his own country.” Garvey was absolutely a prophet without honor in Jamaica. Garvey helped inspire the twentieth century revolutions in Africa and the Caribbean, because of his vision of a society that is not entirely economically controlled by white supremacist capitalists. And today in 2014, Javed Jaghai is a prophet without honor in Jamaica, for daring to conceive of a nation that does not conceive of homosexuals as criminals; a nation trying to shake off all its colonial laws. Jamaica has a long way to go once its people make a concerted effort to celebrate and not castigate the visions of their prophets that will only propel the nation forward.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Review of Philippe Niang's film "Toussaint L'Ouverture"

Today is August 14, 2014. On this day about two hundred twenty three years ago, the Haitian revolution began. This is my review of Philippe Niang's amazing film that is pushing the envelope in terms of presenting more realistic portrayals of the kind of Black men and women that worked for liberation from race, class, and psychological oppression. I first saw this film on June 2, 2013 in Philadelphia, thanks to the brilliance of filmmaker Nadine Patterson. This review is my homage to the spirit of the Haitian revolution. L'UNION FAIT LA FORCE!!! -RF. This is a review of the 2012 French film Toussaint L’Ouverture written by Phillippe Niang, Alain Foix, and Sandro Agenor. This film is reviewed mainly in the context of three works: C.L.R. James’ seminal 1938 Marxist history of the Haitian revolution The Black Jacobins, Jacob Carruthers’ African-centered history of the revolution published in 1985 called The Irritated Genie, and most recently, Madison Smartt Bell’s 2008 biography Toussaint L’Ouverture. This review is meant to critically analyze scenes of a film about Toussaint L’Ouverture in order to get a more truthful look at the influential political and military leader. In comparing these perspectives of James, Carruthers, and Bell, this review compares Marxist, African-centered, and contemporary mainstream interpretations, respectively, of Toussaint L’Ouverture and the event of the Haitian revolution. This review will examine aspects of the film most relevant to aspects of each of these histories. It will also discuss the film the context of influential African American thinkers since the revolution like abolitionist Frederick Douglass and literary editor Pauline Hopkins in order to connect the memory of Toussaint with more recent interpretations. The story of Toussaint’s life is told in this film from his perspective, not as he is telling it to a fellow revolutionary, but as he is telling it in a remote French prison to a military interrogator named Pasquier. The film begins after Toussaint and his family have been kidnapped from the island colony of Saint Domingue by the French for their revolutionary influence. Toussaint’s narrative in this film to Pasquier is a series of flashbacks that respond to Pasquier’s specific questions. Toussaint’s narrative is very compromised because he is telling his life in a way that, in order to preserve his life, must privilege the French perspective. Pasquier uses letters from his wife and sons as an incentive to get him to talk. The version of Toussaint’s life that he tells to Pasquier must placate the same authorities that are imprisoning him, in order to read the letters from his family. James writes that while in prison Toussaint’s chief concern was the fate of his wife and children (364). The difference between what Toussaint tells the interrogator and what the film audience sees in his flashbacks is not clear. What is clear is that the story of the film follows the questions that Pasquier poses to Toussaint, not the other way around, which favors a more conciliatory version of Toussaint. Pasquier’s career hangs on the success of retrieving, under military orders, specific information from Toussaint, namely the location of a prized war chest, that he was believed to have hidden somewhere in Saint Domingue. Pasquier asks Toussaint how old he was when he was sold to a Mr. Breda, manager of the Breda sugar plantation, and he has his first flashback about his father. He said he wished he could swim. Pasquier is confused by this response. The audience learns in this first flashback, set in a slave auction, that Toussaint said he wished he could swim because his father was deemed too worthless by a slave auctioneer and was pushed into the ocean while in shackles. The film shows Toussaint as a child, running after his father. Bayon de Libertat, a plantation manager at this auction, immediately notices the attachment between this child and his father and, sympathetically, buys the father and the son. The auctioneer seeking maximum profit, says that if Bayon buys the boy Toussaint, he must buy his sister Marie-Ange as well. Bayon agrees. Toussaint, his sister and father is sold to Bayon who is manager of Breda plantation, making him Toussaint Breda. The story in the film is fast forwarded at least twenty years. By this time, Toussaint is a successful coachman on the Breda plantation and a protégé of Bayon. One day he leaves the countryside of the Breda plantation on a horse carriage to the Port-au-Prince docks, to pick up a friend of Breda, a Jesuit priest, who lends him a book Histoire Des Deux Indes (Philosophical and Political History of the Establishments and Commerce of the Europeans in the Two Indies) by Abbé Raynal. James writes that Toussaint read and re-read this text that gave him “a grounding in the politics not only in Saint Domingue, but also all of the great empires of Europe” (91). A probing question in this text was: “A courageous chief only is wanted. Where is he?” The film suggests that by this time Toussaint saw himself as the “courageous chief” of a slave colony to slaves seeking freedom. It suggests that he gained power and influence by his literacy. For Toussaint, reading is the opportunity not only for abolition, but also the opportunity for a love interest. When Toussaint picks up the priest, his eye catches the beauty of a market woman whom he tries to converse with. As she approaches him, in order to look studious, he feigns reading the book the priest gave him. When the market woman approaches, she laughs, and turns the book right side up, exposing his folly. Toussaint gets to know this market woman named Suzanne, who tells him she had a baby with a white Frenchman in order to learn how to read. The film shows Suzanne as a woman who is able to use her ability to read to advance her status in society and put herself in a position where she can help a man who would become an incredibly influential leader. James writes that Toussaint married a woman who already had a son: “she bore Toussaint one child, and he and his wife lived together in the greatest harmony and friendship, when he was master of all San Domingo just as in the days when he was just an ordinary slave” (92). The film shows that Toussaint and Suzanne did not in fact live together in the “greatest harmony” however they did share a long relationship. The priest that Toussaint picks up meets Bayon and encourages him to set an example to other French planters by freeing his slaves. The film gives the impression that Toussaint hearing this conversation had some idea about his own possibilities of being free. Bayon tells this priest that Toussaint was his best coachman, and Toussaint uses this information to buy his own freedom. Toussaint tells Pasquier that he read about Abbe Raynal, but Pasquier is less interested in the role that reading played in Toussaint’s life. He asks him when exactly Bayon freed Toussaint. In a following scene, Breda holds a gathering on his plantation to celebrate the production of three hundred tons of sugar. To celebrate this production, Bayon announces to his elite company that he will grant Toussaint his freedom. Toussaint tells young Moyse, the son of his sister Marie Ange, that he will be free one day. The film has Toussaint pursue this logical trajectory of asserting his rights by telling Bayon that not only should he be free, but that Bayon owes him money. Bayon is mortified and refuses. He introduces Toussaint to another planter new to Saint Domingue, Joseph, and tells Toussaint to familiarize him with the Saint Domingue landowning routine. A young Moyse runs to Toussaint about his mother Marie-Ange who is on her death bed after being raped by French sailors. However according to James, Moyse was “carried across the Atlantic,” which would have been impossible if he was born to a mother that was sold in Saint Domingue on a plantation on this island at the age of a child (147). The scene of Marie-Ange on her death bed is a creative liberty on the part of the writers that was certainly plausible because of the dehumanizing treatment of Black women commonplace at that time, but it is not plausible if James’s account of Moyse being born in Africa is correct. One of James’s many sources he uses to write his history are primary documents from the National Archives of France, even though he admits to not examining them exhaustively. Of the three histories of the Haitian Revolution, James’s is the most exhaustive. Suzanne arrives at the funeral of Marie-Ange and is pursued by Toussaint who, despite the occasion, proposes a relationship with her. Toussaint tells Pasquier that he is in prison at the wish of Napoleon Bonaparte, and not the people. In a next flashback, Toussaint, Bayon and his fellow planters stroll through the Port-au-Prince market and witness a parade of white French in an obvious race riot celebrating the murder of free Blacks. The severed heads of Blacks were placed on top of sticks and paraded this stick through the town market. By this time in the early 1790s, the mulatto class in French Saint Domingue were following the pattern set by white revolutionaries against the monarchy in France, by fighting the French upper classes for the right to be represented in the French Assembly. James writes about the tremendous repression against mulattoes and Blacks (gens de couleur et les noirs) in Saint Domingue trying to assert these rights. He quotes a wealthy planter Marquis de Caradeu who “has made fifty heads fly on the Aubry Plantation…and in order that everybody should know about it, had them fired on pikes along the hedges of his plantation, palm tree fashion” (82). In addition, “the Colonial Assembly stuck the heads of Negroes on pikes all along the roads leading to Le Cap“(96). The film is faithful to show this kind of repression and the effect it has on a newly emancipated Toussaint. While observing a parade of these severed heads, Toussaint himself is beaten and has his life threatened by an angry white mob. A young Moyse learns of this attack on his uncle Toussaint and vows revenge on whites who attacked free Blacks in Port-Au-Prince. The film is historically accurate in the historic 1791 ceremony at Bois Caiman, a ceremony credited by Carruthers as being “more than a summation of the historical experience of the Blacks on the island of Santo Domingo and indeed the diaspora in general.” Carruthers called this meeting an “evocation…of the Vodou spirit Ogun, the God of War” (22). This August 1791 Bois-Caiman ceremony is deemed important by many histories of the Haitian Revolution for its recorded practice of Vodou rituals. It was unquestionably the rallying call of the enslaved who, after this ceremony, commenced to burning plantations in pursuit of the end of slavery, or what the laborers called in Haitian kreyol, “libété.” Bell’s history is the only one among the three that asks the question of whether Toussaint actually participated in this 1791 Vodou ceremony. James’ history focuses on the spiritual leader of this ceremony Boukman whom he quotes directly. Part of James’ exact quote of Boukman is exactly what we hear Boukman say in the film: “The god of the white man inspires him with crime, but our god calls upon us to do good works. Our god who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs. He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the god of the whites who has so often caused us to weep, and listen to the voice of liberty, which speaks in the hearts of us all” (87). In the film, Toussaint is seen as an observer of this historic Vodou ceremony, not as a participant. Carruthers’ history of the Haitian revolution is grounded in specifically Boukman’s call to arms. He writes that when Boukman was exhorting the countless enslaved at this ceremony, he was “setting forth the first principle of Black revolutionary commitment which had inspired the historic rebellion on the island.” This first principle for Carruthers is to reject he white god which “inspires one to get as high on the pyramid of power and wealth as possible” (23). Carruthers later calls this pyramid the “phantom of liberty” because it is the illusion of liberty that ultimately blocks the kind of revolutionary commitment necessary for Black freedom. It is this principle of revolutionary commitment that Toussaint ultimately betrayed according to Carruthers. While he nor James addressed the question of whether Toussaint attended this ceremony in their histories, the film forcefully answers this question in the affirmative. We see Toussaint at this ceremony being a silent observer at Bois Caiman. We see a woman named Fatimah who cuts a pig and takes its blood and presents it as a sacrifice to the Ogun, Vodoun god of war. Toussaint eventually cannot avoid being noticed, however. He is confronted at this ceremony by a military rival, Georges Biassou, who demands that if he really cared about Boukman’s message, he would kill Bayon, his former owner. Toussaint refuses, and Biassou calls him a traitor to the revolutionary cause, aims and points his gun at Toussaint’s head, ready to shoot. However when Biassou pulls the trigger, he shoots a blank. The blank shot catches the attention of Boukman, who after this shot, concludes that the Vodoun god of the gates, Papa Legba, protects Toussaint. The film shows how Toussaint is recognized after Bois Caiman as a spiritual leader before a military leader. This role as an observer enabled him to gain and develop the trust of powerful whites that he used eventually to command armies that would fight European armies for abolition. It also enabled him to be seen by Blacks like Boukman and Biassou as a presence who is spiritually protected and who should thereby be respected. This is a very wise creative liberty on the part of the writing team. It showed him as part of the early revolt of the revolution, without being completely involved in it. Jacob Carruthers dates the “first recorded major violent slave revolt on Haiti” as early as 1522 (xiii). When Pasquier the interrogator then asks him why he attended the 1791 ceremony at Bois Caiman, he replies that God sent him. This underscores John Hope Franklin’s point in From Slavery to Freedom that African religious practices emboldened the revolts of the enslaved. The spiritual ceremony that recognized the Vodou gods such as Erzulie was a necessary precursor to the military success and completion of the Haitian revolution. After this meeting, the enslaved execute their plan of raiding and setting fire to nearby plantations. Carruthers writes that “as terror spread, the women, children, and as many Black slaves as could be found and herded up were put on board ships and the able bodied white men tried to mobilize for battle” (27). Toussaint then rushes to warn the whites on plantations friendly to Bayon’s that they should leave in order to escape this raid. The film includes scenes of Toussaint helping the same planter family Bayon instructed him to help onto a boat to leave their plantation that the growing raid is now threatening. Specifically, he brings a pair of white women to Suzanne who treats their wounds. Grand-Riviere is where Toussaint tells Bayon the raid is headed. Catherine who witnesses the enslaved leaving Bois-Caiman is apparently unable to distinguish Toussaint from the other Blacks at Bois-Caiman. She cannot discern the helpful role he played in her and other whites’ lives and tells Bayon that Toussaint is a threat who supported the raid on plantations that followed the ceremony. While it was true that Toussaint supported the raid, it is not true that he wanted Bayon and plantation owners dead. The film shows how Toussaint was indeed an anomaly in the privileged white mind like Catherine’s. He was not a simple brute hungry for white blood, nor was a simple collaborator with the French planter class. He curried favor and respect from both sides before his military campaigns. From Boukman’s dead body, a Vodou priestess named Fatimah retrieves a white bracelet, which comes to symbolize in the film the revolutionary spirit of the Haitian Revolution. In the next scene, Fatimah gives the bracelet to Toussaint and warns him, that losing the bracelet will abandon the revolutionary cause he is fighting for. Biassou asks Toussaint if he would join them. He then says to his now wife Suzanne that instead of placing her near the front lines of battle that would now undertake with the French Army, he would send her with his nephew, Moise, to live in San Rafael. She assents, but Moise desperately wants to join his uncle in alongside the French with Biassou. Toussaint refuses until Moise becomes the first to inform his uncle that the Spanish is recruiting soldiers to fight the French. Carruthers’ history facetiously called the Spanish recruitment of French soldiers a “rescue…by another group of European saviors” (37). It was this recruitment that would begin Toussaint’s reputation as a powerful military leader. In the next scene in France in a hotel outside of Toussaint’s prison, French General Caffarelli seeks an update from Pasquier on his interrogation of Toussaint. We see here exactly how subordinate Pasquier is to Caffarelli who insists that Pasquier must do whatever he can, short of murder, to get from Toussaint the location of the war chest that Bonaparte wants so desperately. Bell gives the most extensive details into the impasse Caffarelli felt when interrogating Toussaint: “despite his weakness, illness, and all the pressure Caffarelli could bring to bear on him, Toussaint said ‘nothing except what he wanted to say’”(280). Toussaint’s dignity, played sternly by Jimmy Jean-Louis, also conveys this message in the film. Caffarelli wanted Toussaint to disclose the location of the material treasure he thought Toussaint had, and pressures Pasquier to get him to disclose the location of this imagined prize. The film shows how the Toussaint depended on the benevolence of the French military for survival. The film takes a creative liberty by focusing the story away from Caffarelli and towards Caffarelli’s assigned subordinate in Pasquier. Since joining forces with Biassou, Toussaint seizes the military opportunity to feign support for the Spanish Army against the French until he can collect arms to fight both European forces in order to achieve abolition, or “libété.” However as Toussaint becomes more popular, Biassou soon resents him and his influence. The film depicts Biassou as a drunk with gaudy jewelry, and unfit for the ideal military leadership that Toussaint would exhibit. The film shows that part of Toussaint’s high moral character that made him fit for military leadership was his abstinence from alcohol, sexual promiscuity, and materialism in general. Carruthers writes that Toussaint “proclaimed against prostitution, idleness, indolence and the wearing of gaudy jewelry” (50). The film’s depiction of Biassou shows him a champion of these same things. This is why when Moise drinks alcohol, Toussaint snatches it out of his hands, telling him if he wants to command, he cannot drink. Toussaint tells Pasquier that the French thought their sending Sonthonax would successfully quell the growing revolution, but the film shows how Sonthonax’s high expectations were soon dashed once he reached Saint Domingue. The film shows French planters on the coast of Saint Domingue booing at Sonthonax after he has promised abolition. James writes that Sonthonax was as fierce an enemy as any Black laborer, and that it was his legislation in favor of the Blacks that was driving more conservative French colonials mad (185, 192). Both James and the film deal with the strain that Sonthonax was under in having to manage both the laborers demanding an end to slavery and the conservative French government who were enduring their own internal revolution. Laveaux and Sonthonax talk about Toussaint’s growing influence. André Rigaud enters the film and, by this time, has built an army of mulattoes in Saint Domingue, seeking their own specific racial allegiance to France that would be closer and stronger than those of Toussaint’s darker hue. Sonthonax orders Rigaud and Laveaux to capture Toussaint. Their armies surround Toussaint’s camp in the next scene. The first military battle in the film shows Toussaint attacking the armies of Rigaud and Laveaux in what seems to be a military draw. When Toussaint confronts Rigaud personally and asks him if he hates Blacks, Rigaud replies that he hates anyone that despises him. The film raises the very real hostilities between Blacks and mulattoes on the colony. James writes about another commissioner that France sends to quell the revolution who followed Sonthonax but who is not in the film, General Hedouville. Bell writes that he lasts “less than one year in Saint Domingue,”presumably due to his especially contentious relationship with the now powerful Toussaint (165). For James, Hedouville’s prime offenses include his attack on Toussaint’s nephew Moise who was a very beloved leader among laborers. But most offensive was Hedouville’s deliberate creation of hostility between the lead Black military leader in Toussaint, and the lead mulatto military leader in Rigaud. According to James, Hedouville wrote Rigaud a letter “absolving him from all obedience to Toussaint and authorizing him to take possession of the districts of Leogane and Jacmel.” James found this conduct by Hedouville absolutely reprehensible, calling him “a subversive enemy of society” (223). He would probably welcome his absence from a film on Toussaint. After his conflict with Rigaud, Toussaint tells Biassou that he won’t fight for amnesty but for full freedom. Rigaud says that if Toussaint plans to free Blacks, he will block those plans. Certainly French colonials like Hedouville were successful in stoking the fire between Rigaud and Toussaint that could have been used for abolition. Following his military successes, Toussaint in the film discovers a priest kneeling and praying, and converses with him, discovering that the French King Louis the XVI is dead. Toussaint questions how a people can kill their king. Toussaint was aware of the strong role that the Spanish King played in the same Spanish Army that he was at this time fighting for. By this time, military leaders like Toussaint knew the importance of this King in supplying the arms, the food, and the laborers, except Toussaint as a military leader would take his leadership one step further. He would train his army to turn against the same European forces that armed them, and demand abolition. Toussaint argues successfully with Biassou that the Black laborers they are leading should fight on the side of the Spanish instead of the French in order to gain more control of arms and military power. This was Toussaint’s winning military strategy. In the film, the King of Spain Hermona initially designates Toussaint’s rival Biassou to be in charge of this Black delegation, but Toussaint demonstrates to Hermona his military expertise. He implores the Spanish general to let those who are defeated by his military to live, in order to, conceivably, fight on behalf of the Spanish Army. Hermona seems to have no other alternative but to make Toussaint the military leader. Bell writes that Toussaint preferred “throughout his whole career, to win whenever possible through diplomacy rather than force of arms” (91). Literary editor of the Boston-based Colored American Magazine, Pauline Hopkins writes that all of Toussaint’s influence “was on the side of mercy” (15). Instead of killing laborers and using murder to intimidate those that have not been killed, Toussaint relies on their presence to join the Spanish Army to the irony of the French. Eventually Toussaint trains them, to the irony of the Spanish, to fight no longer for the Spanish King, but against the Spanish, French, British, and all for “libété.” As the Spanish arm more laborers who join the army under the command of Toussaint, Toussaint writes new French General Etienne Laveaux offering to join the French only if the French would recognize the liberty of all Blacks. We return to Pasquier who, by now in his interrogation, is flustered by Toussaint’s reasons for joining the Spanish Army and is convinced that they paid him. Laveaux then asks him why he joined the Spanish. The film shows how both Pasquier and Laveaux, as white Frenchmen, are unable to understand Toussaint’s logic in joining the Spanish Army. When Toussaint gives Laveaux a politically correct answer to his question, his nephew Moise asks him why he does not tell Laveaux that he’s fighting for Black freedom. Toussaint replies with what seems an incomplete English translation from the French creole: “more haste, less speed.” Sonthonax realized and practiced, perhaps more than any French commissioner sent to Saint Domingue, that Saint Domingue is lost to the English without Toussaint’s army. When Suzanne demands more attention from Toussaint from his military exploits, he tells her about his important work and how because of it, the French promises to abolish slavery. She remains skeptical. Laveaux tries to convince Toussaint that the Spanish will not abolish slavery. To avoid murder, Bayon asks Catherine to join him in America but she says she cannot abandon the land of her late husband Joseph who in the film was killed in the raid following the Bois Caiman ceremony. Laveaux, steps behind Toussaint at this point, gives Sonthonax a flyer calling for slaves to join the French Army. James writes that Toussaint’s method of being able to publish was the usual one of mystery (265). Sonthonax asks Rigaud and Laveaux how they would let a former slave defeat them. By 1794, Toussaint had an army of at least fourteen hundred men. And it was growing. Lorraine Hansberry, in her screenplay on Toussaint, writes Toussaint saying: “Europeans will be fighting free men thinking they are fighting slaves, and again and again—that will be their undoing” (Hansberry, To Be Young, Gifted And Black, 138). The film shows the alarming degree to which Sonthonax and Laveaux underestimated a Toussaint who, no doubt felt betrayed by them, when they would not recognize him as leader of a powerfully growing army. The suspense of the film is heightened when Toussaint sees that his home was raided and his wife kidnapped. He believes that the Spanish military leader Marquis D’Hermona betrayed him, only to discover that the raiders and kidnappers were Biassou and his supporters. The first half of the film ends with him noticing his family jailed by Biassou. The second half of the film begins with Toussaint telling Pasquier that Biassou went mad. James writes that by 1796, Toussaint was the only person in the North region of Saint Domingue whom the laborers could be depended on to obey. Toussaint in this year was also able to stop a mulatto coup that threatened to kill Laveaux (J, 170). When he confronts Biassou, he claims that Hermona told him to capture Toussaint’s family but the film lends more credence to Biassou’s individual jealousy as the cause for the attack on Toussaint. James writes that “Biassou was a faire eater, always drunk, always ready for the fiercest and most dangerous exploits” (93). Toussaint confronts Hermona in a church and accuses him of trying to assassinate him. Hermona is promptly offended, and orders his forces to attack Toussaint. His forces point guns at Toussaint and lead him out of the church. As they leave the church, Hermona and his forces are overwhelmed by Toussaint’s soldiers who point their guns and are ready to kill Hermona. Yet Toussaint displays his military power by ordering his army to draw down their guns, and they spare Hermona’s life. Bell writes that D’Hermona admired Toussaint to the point of declaring, “If God were to descend to earth, he could inhabit no purer heart than that of Toussaint L’Ouverture” (93). Later, Pasquier gives Toussaint a letter from his older son of Suzanne’s, Placide. Pasquier asked Toussaint why he left the Spanish to rejoin the French. We see that Toussaint’s growing military power was a result of his sensitivity to the laboring class, who saw him as a compassionate leader who will, in Moise’s words, fight uncompromisingly for Black freedom. Laveaux makes fighting for the French Army more attractive to Toussaint by making him a general. Caffarelli orders Pasquier to give Toussaint one meal a day, and accuses Pasquier of being too sympathetic to Toussaint. He gives him exactly one week to get the information about the treasure. He steals a gun from Pasquier that Pasquier took from Toussaint. We see in a flashback that Toussaint received this gun at a ceremony thrown for Toussaint by Sonthonax to celebrate Toussaint’s promotion in the French Army to the rank of General. By this time, Toussaint and his army had a uniquely strong relationships with the English and the Americans, both of who were vying for control of Saint Domingue. But, Bell writes, Toussaint and his command over his incredibly strong army, would not let British and American naval protection tempt him to a Declaration of Independence from France, because only France had abolished slavery, while Britain and the U.S. showed no sign of doing so any time soon. Trade with the U.S. was essential for Saint Domingue’s survival, according to Bell, and British naval acquiescence was essential to that trade. Bell writes that some American and British ships had more privilege in the French colony’s ports than the ships of France herself (173). That trade included arms. The film does not show the strategically strong relationships Toussaint built with the British and the Americans. It does show how French officials Laveaux and Sonthonax tried to corral Toussaint’s growing military power by making him a French general and allowing him residence in a French mansion. Carruthers writes that Toussaint “strove to be a part of a French dominion of ‘liberty and equality’” and that with Toussaint as governor, “the racial hierarchy remained pretty much as it was” before Toussaint was governor (49, 50). James on the other hand found Toussaint’s governorship more fair, and one that “balanced between the classes…his was rooted in the preservation of the interests of the laboring poor” (247). Unlike James, Carruthers unquestionably finds Toussaint’s governorship problematic because of how preserved the French hierarchy and its uncritical subjection of African people. The offer of a French military position and a lush French mansion is part of what Carruthers has described as the “phantom of liberty” that ultimately duped Toussaint and caused him to betray his revolutionary commitment. James claims that Toussaint “never had any illusions about European civilization conferring any moral superiority” on whites whereas for Carruthers, this was part of Toussaint’s problem, that he tried to fit into this hierarchical civilization rather than heed the call of Boukman to fundamentally rearrange it (270). This is what makes James’ Marxist analysis limiting is its privileging this bourgeois perspective that ultimately betrays the revolutionary cause. In her posthumous play Les Blancs, Lorraine Hansberry’s Hamlet-like character Tshembe who understands the revolutionary cause but is afraid to undertake it talks with a Peter, a devoted revolutionary, fighting English colonial settlers in Hansberry’s fictional African nation of Zatembe. Peter tries to convince Tshembe that Amos Kumalo, the leader of their ethnic group Kwi that the British chooses to recognize, has become nothing more than a mere puppet mainly because of the material trappings provided by the English: TSHEMBE: Amos Kumalo is no puppet— PETER: No, of course not. But will he control the Army? The mines? His own ministers? (Shaking his head) A government office…a government car…a white government secretary to warm his bed—“who fears the lion after his teeth are pulled?” No Tshembe. When we drive out the invader, we will have peace. Only then (Hansberry, Les Blancs, 97). The film shows how the French’s offer of a scholarship for his sons and his palatial mansions were ways that the French were proverbially pulling the teeth of Toussaint in order to make him less effective by giving him the material luxuries of a mansion. The film shows how Sonthonax tries to counter his growing influence, by offering a scholarship to Toussaint’s two sons, Isaac and Placide to attend French schools. Bell writes that the costs were assumed by the French government (140). In a scene with Pasquier, Toussaint tells him that the British lost tens of thousands of troops in their battles with his forces. While we do not see direct battle scenes between Toussaint’s forces and the British in ways that we saw his forces fight the French, we see the dead bodies of British soldiers in a waterfall. This scene confirms the success of Toussaint as a military leader who stood uncompromisingly for abolition in Saint Domingue. This success was confirmed by two letters that Bell mentioned: one from Toussaint to his then military subordinate Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and another from French General Emmanuel Leclerc to Napoleon. Bell writes that in a February 7, 1802 letter to Dessalines, Toussaint wrote: “Consider that the land bathed with our sweat must not furnish our enemies the least nourishment. Jam up all the roads, throw horses and corpses into all the springs; have everything burned an annihilated, so that those who come to return us to slavery will always have before them the image of the hell that they deserve” (236). About eight months later in an October 7, 1802 letter, Lecerc writes to Napoleon about Saint Domingue: “I have always served you with devotion…but I cannot resign myself to stay on here next summer. Since I have been here I have had nothing but the spectacle of fires, insurrections, assassinations, the dead and the dying. My soul is shriveled, no mirthful idea can make me forget these hideous scenes” (269). The “hideous scenes” that Toussaint instructed Dessalines to produce did in fact startle the French General Leclerc and dissuaded them from the colonial slavery that the French and other Europeans were trying to maintain. By showing the strewn dead bodies of British soldiers in a stream, this film was giving its audience a taste of the hideous scenes meant to dissuade those Europeans trying to restore slavery on Saint Domingue. Toussaint successfully defeated all European powers by this method. James wrote that “for the British the drain of men and money was too great…All Toussaint wanted was that [British General] Maitland leave Saint Domingue” (200). In C.L.R. James’ words, Toussaint had successfully defeated all European powers because of: “the decree of abolition, the bravery of the Blacks, and the ability of their leaders…he [Toussaint] knew theFrench, British and Spanish imperialists for the insatiable gangsters that they were, that there is no oath too sacred for them to break, no crime, no deception, treachery, cruelty, destruction of human life and property which they would not commit against those who could not defend themselves” (214, 271). The “scene of horror” of dead bodies is a glimpse of the enormous degree that Toussaint and his Army would go to defend “libété.” In a church in the next scene, Toussaint promises to return whites to their plantation. Catherine replied in protest that Toussaint was responsible for making her son an orphan. She is a character who is unable to see any Blacks who desire freedom as capable allies of her. Toussaint jars Catherine’s racial perception that conflated Toussaint for all the raiders at Bois Caiman, and tells her that he did not murder her husband. He was trying to save him, but failed. Mars Plaisir eventually convinces Toussaint to let him be his personal assistant. James writes that Mars Plaisir was a mulatto and that such a choice of a mulatto as an assistant was “typical of Toussaint.” James refers here to Toussaint’s consistent policy of reconciliation with mulattoes. The film does not show Mars Plaisir as a mulatto but as Black. Toussaint approaches Catherine in her home playing piano, and tells her that he wants to restore her husband’s plantation. Moise observes this exchange, leaves unnoticed and angered. Pasquier tells his lover, Louise, who runs a hotel with her mother, La Mere Coulinge, that his interrogation of Toussaint will determine whether he gets a position at the Prefecture. Following Toussaint’s promotion to a General in the French Army, the film shows how, after the elimination of the French, English, and Spanish, Toussaint now decides how to run the former colony. He is committed to maintaining the economy that produces sugar and coffee. He promises to pay workers rather than continue slavery. In the film he is shown on horseback on a sugar plantation whipping a laborer cutting cane, for not working fast enough. The film shows how his policy of continuing a plantation economy was a vexing and controversial decision for Toussaint. The significant difference for Black laborers was that they were now, with Toussaint as leader, paid for their labor. Carruthers takes a more detailed and critical view than Bell and James of Toussaint’s decision to maintain a plantation economy. Bell called Toussaint’s labor policy “draconian” (206). James was more sympathetic, writing that Toussaint was “battling with the colossal task of transforming a slave population after years of license into a community of free laborers and he was doing it the only way he could see”(242). In this single scene, the film shows how Toussaint’s plantation economy was both “draconian” and “battling.” Carruthers wrote that Toussaint’s colony was “simply more a humane version of the colonial order…the success of his enterprise…depended on the recognition of legitimacy by Europe if not by France” (56, 57). Carruthers’s history suggests that this dependence on European legitimacy also evidences Toussaint’s betrayal of Boukman’s revolutionary principles. The film makes this same suggestion. In his most controversial act as a French general who now lives in a mansion, Toussaint tells Sonthonax that he wants the whites who owned the plantation to return to their plantations in Saint Domingue. Bell writes that on November 15, 1798, Toussaint issued a proclamation that required all the able-bodied Blacks in the colony who were not attached to the army to return to work for wages on the plantation (B168). Carruthers writes that after learning about this proclamation, the masses of Blacks felt betrayed (C58). Bell includes, from French General Pamphile de Lacroix’s history, an anecdote of an exchange between Bayon who, after this proclamation, returns to his plantation and tries to assume the same colonial relationship with Toussaint that he had before his military successes. “He [Bayon] ran there, and wanted to throw himself into the arms of the one who people everywhere said was his benefactor; but this benefactor recoiled, and cried out in a solemn voice, so that all the world could hear him well: Go easy, Monsieur Manager—today there is a greater distance between me and you than there was in the old days between you and me. Return to Habitation Breda; be firm and just; make the Blacks work well, so that the success of your small interests will add to the general prosperity of the administration of the first of the Blacks, of the General in Chief of Saint Domingue” (Bell, 201; Lacroix, 240). The film dramatizes this exchange between Bayon and Toussaint. The film underscores the higher level of urgency and pressure that Toussaint faces after he issues this proclamation. While his former plantation owner Bayon is satisfied that his control of the Breda plantation is restored, Toussaint becomes increasingly dissatisfied with the resistance to his proclamation. When Breda tries to congratulate him, Toussaint says “everything is different, sir.” Toussaint says to Sonthonax that he should not start a race war between Blacks and whites, and, in an English translation that borrows a phrase from Marcus Garvey says: “from now on, we are masters of our own destiny.” Like Marcus Garvey, Toussaint successfully masters his own destiny by dictating an army under his control to benefit not only landowning whites but Black laborers as well. Garvey’s philosophy of “Africa For the Africans” applies to how Toussaint intended to use the plantation economy to the benefit of Black laborers. James writes that Toussaint first saw an exact inventory of the resources of sugar and coffee, “then demolished the numerous duties and taxes which were only a source of fraud and abuses” (245). He dictates his servant Mars Plaisir to write a letter to Napoleon. Toussaint says it is the fifteenth letter without a response but Mars says it’s the seventeenth letter without a response. Pasquier asks Toussaint to give him something to tell Bonaparte about. In a flashback, Suzanne tells Toussaint that he has too many enemies, and that is why she is hesitant to leave the countryside. She is a character who, like Fatimah, represents the revolutionary spirit of the people, and becomes more hesitant to associate with her husband Toussaint the more he climbs into the French military hierarchy. In a conversation with Laveaux, Toussaint tells him that Bonaparte does not want a Black general in power. Toussaint asks Pasquier: “why is the White Eagle allowed to do what the Black Eagle isn’t?” The film shows some hostility between Toussaint and Sonthonax who, according to Toussaint, should have stayed in Paris and “tended to his garden” rather than come to Saint Domingue. When the French government choose to replace Sonthonax, Toussaint asks Laveaux to protect him. Laveaux tells Toussaint that Rigaud and the Mulatto Army he leads plans to kills him. Rigaud believes, and is quoted by the film and James as saying that Europe belongs to the whites, Guinea to the Blacks, and Saint Domingue to the Mulattoes. He is clear that his interests lie not in allying himself with Toussaint but more with the French government. The film shows how French leaders like Sonthonax and Lacroix stoke this hostility between Blacks and mulattoes. James wrote about how French Commissioner Hedouville encouraged Rigaud to see himself differently from Toussaint. Mars Plaisir writes a dictation from Toussaint telling Napoleon that Rigaud and his Mulatto Army had declared war with him. Toussaint was set up in Le Cap as Governor and left his wife in the fields with the fellow laborers. The dinner party scene in the Governor’s mansion puts all of Suzanne’s anticolonial reservations on display. When Suzanne says she feels out of place in Toussaint’s mansion residence, Catherine, the widowed planter approaches her next to Toussaint and asks to fill her glass, thinking she is a servant. Toussaint promptly corrects Catherine, saying that Suzanne is his wife, not a servant. When Catherine asks Toussaint to be her child’s Godfather, Toussaint’s reply is that “I am Black before I am Governor” captures the moral dilemma he faces within a government that refuses to see Blacks as humans. To underscore his point, he places his hand to shake before her young son who, in response, winces in fear. Toussaint apparently anticipating Catherine’s son’s response illustrates in this scene why pride in one’s African heritage must take precedence over service to the French government. This film shows how Toussaint was clever in his personal and public life, with the way he declared his loyalty to France while at the same time upholding African pride. This scene is based an anecdote that James cites from a French colonel in his history about a colonist who, responding to his proclamation to returning whites, asked Toussaint to be a Godfather to her son: “Why, Madame, do you wish me to be godfather of your son—your approach to me has no other aim than to get me to give a post to your husband, for the feelings of your heart are contrary to the request that you make of me...Madame, I know the whites…If I accept, how do you know that when he reaches the age of reason, your son may not reproach you for giving him a Negro as godfather?...You wish your husband to get a post. Well I give him the employment that he demands. Let him be honest and let him remember that I cannot see everything, but that nothing escapes God. I cannot accept your offer to be godfather to your son. You may have to bear the reproaches of the colonists and perhaps one day that of your son” (261). While Toussaint rejects the offer to be the child’s Godfather, he grants the colonial the post she wanted and uses his influence, in Hopkins’ words, “on the side of mercy.” Toussaint made those of the planter class like Bayon and Catherine feel comfortable enough to consider Toussaint a Godfather, yet not close enough to let them deny him or his wife their African humanity. The film shows a private dance that Suzanne and Toussaint share that highlights this humanity. Laveaux tells Toussaint that he refuses to bring the Constitution declaring abolition throughout the island that Toussaint has drafted. Henri Christophe informs Toussaint that Bayon has been killed by troops who were ordered by Moise. Upon arriving on the plantation, Toussaint sees that Catherine is hung from a tree. Toussaint interrogates a laborer as to who gave the orders to kill Catherine, and the laborer replies that it was Moise. Toussaint orders that the slave who followed Moise’s orders to kill Catherine be shot, and he is. After Toussaint confronts Moise about his orders to kill Catherine, Moise replies that all the whites must be killed because of how they killed his mother. Toussaint imprisons Moise who resents Toussaint’s use of his power. According to James, Moise “had no sympathy with Toussaint’s policy of reconciliation with the whites” but was “not anti-white” (278, 257). When Moise insults Toussaint’s soldiers including Dessalines, Dessaline grabs Moise and threatens to kill him, telling him that he is in jail because he never knew what it was like to be whipped. James writes that Dessalines was owned by a Black and that his body was “scarred with the strokes from the whip [who was]…a born soldier, soon to hold high command” (130). Here the film shows brilliantly the very real difference of revolutionary sentiment among Black men who were all fighting for the same cause. This spectrum of revolutionary beliefs among Black men is rarely seen in films intended for Western audiences. Both Moise and Dessalines believe in abolition, but the film shows an important difference in exactly the pace at which each wanted “libété.” We are led to believe Moise’s impulsive revolutionary instincts led to the murder of Catherine and consequently, his own imprisonment and death. Dessalines’ belief in abolition requires, like Toussaint, that he use “more haste, and less speed” than Moise. The film’s display of Dessalines as part of the firing squad that executed Moise supports Dessalines and Toussaint’s revolutionary vision of not killing white planters like Catherine and Bayon unless it was absolutely necessary. As Moise is being executed, the film shows a close up of the charm leaving Toussaint’s hands and falling to the ground. This is the same charm that Fatimah gave him and warned him never to let fall to the ground. Like Suzanne, Fatimah is the carrier of the revolutionary cause. The film suggests, to Angela Davis’s point, that the success of the revolution depends on the range and quality of female participation (Davis, 99). Toussaint’s neglect of Fatimah’s message to keep the charm off the ground, the same charm that embodies the spirit of what Jacob Carruthers’ called the spirit of the Irritated Genie, resulted in his decision to execute Moise and lose the support of the same laborers he was supposed to represent, before moving into a mansion provided by the French. The film suggests that Toussaint abandoned the revolutionary cause when he executed Moise. Both Carruthers and James make vociferous critiques against Toussaint for executing Moise. Bell is far less sympathetic to Moise and frames his murder as simply an opportunity for Toussaint to consolidate more power. Carruthers called Toussaint’s retaliation against Moise “repressive” (53). James wrote that “to shoot Moise, the Black, for the sake of the whites was more than error, it was a crime…it was as if Lenin shot Trotsky for taking the side of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie” (C53, J284). Hopkins very succinctly writes that Toussaint’s ruin was “due in great measure to his loyalty to France and his filial feeling for Bonaparte.” She calls his murder of Moise “a course [that] would have been beyond us of the present day and generation” (Dworkin, ed., 15). Carruthers writes that his reasoning was based on everything the French revolution taught him, and that his rejection of certain fundamental decisions, like the use of more diplomacy with Moise, was “dictated by a desire to share in the world created by the oppressors” (62). The film shows how Suzanne shared no desire to share in such a world, especially when she carries Moise’s executed body from the gallows into the country. She warns Toussaint that if he kills Moise that she would leave him and does exactly this. James paints a more detailed tragic picture of Toussaint when he writes: “The man into which the French revolution had made him demanded that the relation with France of liberty, equality, fraternity, and the abolition of slavery without a debate, should be maintained. What revolutionary France signified was perpetually on his lips, in public statements, in his correspondence, in the spontaneous intimacy of private conversation. It was the highest stage of social existence he could imagine…If he was convinced that San Domingo would decay without the benefits of the French connection, he was equally certain that slavery could never be restored. He…became the embodiment of vacillation. His allegiance to the French revolution and all it opened out for mankind in general and the people of San Domingo in particular, this had made him what he was. But this in the end ruined him” (290). The film shows how the execution of Moise came as a result of his “allegiance to the French revolution” and to France. This allegiance was captured in scenes where Toussaint appealed to Bayon, to Sonthonax, to Laveaux, and to Catherine. However the film shows that Toussaint could not appeal to these elite French forces and be faithful to the revolutionary cause taught by Boukman and Fatimah. It was this allegiance that eventually proved stronger than the kind of leadership that Saint Domingue needed. He cared and worked incredibly hard to earn the trust of Black laborers on Saint Domingue, but his allegiance to the French eventually did not allow him to keep that trust. The film shows how Toussaint wanted the power that Napoleon had. In the next scene, Toussaint when asked about his fight with Bonaparte for military control of Saint Domingue, asks Pasquier in French: “why is the white eagle allowed what the Black eagle isn’t?” James writes Toussaint was hoping that if he defeated General Leclerc, Bonaparte would see reason and the valuable connection with France would be maintained (329). To James’ earlier point, and to the point of the film, this did not happen. While we do not see General Leclerc in person in the film, he is mentioned as a last, formidable military foe of Toussaint’s. Toussaint wrote a letter to Napoleon assuring him of his devotion to his orders while at the same time writing how Leclerc had disobeyed his orders. About this letter, James writes a summary of its influence that symbolizes Toussaint’s overall relationship with the French: “it was magnificent diplomacy but ruinous revolutionary policy” (325). The film shows Toussaint’s desire to be respected by Napoleon and to avoid bloodshed, however the struggle to become a French colony without slavery was a battle that forced him to “vacillate” and neglect the revolutionary cause. Eventually General Caffarelli orders that the trusted servant of Toussaint, Mars Plaisir, leave his side. By this time we have a clearer picture about how Toussaint ended up in a prison in Fort-de-Joux, France. James writes that: “[Napoleon] Bonaparte decided to kill him by ill treatment, cold and starvation...his gaolers humiliated him by giving him a convict’s clothes to wear, cut down his food, and when the winter came, reduced his allowance for wood; they took away his servant” (363). The film shows this “ill treatment” that amounted to what we would call now torture. Up to this point Mars is with Toussaint, but Caffarelli’s pathological desire for the treasure, which the film hints is nothing short of a figment in the psychotic imagination of Caffarelli, becomes the source behind orders for Mars to leave Toussaint. In a horse carriage that is carrying Mars away from Toussaint, Caffarelli asks Mars for the location of this elusive “treasure.” When Mars replied that he didn’t know, Caffarelli tells Mars he may leave the carriage, but, as Mars leaves, Caffarelli shoots him in the back, and repeats a gesture symbolizing the French approach to ending slavery in Saint Domingue. Caffarelli’s murder of Mars demonstrates for this film audience the necessary level of distrust between military leaders of former slaves like Toussaint and the French military. James provides countless examples in history of how the Spanish, British, and most often the French betrayed their promise to Toussaint and the Blacks to end slavery in a manner similar to how Caffarelli was shown to betray both Toussaint and Mars. The perspective of Toussaint is made more sympathetic by this cold murder. It justifies the military attacks against French generals, most of whom cannot ultimately be trusted to ensure abolition on the island of Saint Domingue. After Plaisir is shot, we get a flashback of Toussaint’s sons returning home to Toussaint and Suzanne since leaving home for France on scholarship. Placide gives Toussaint a letter from Bonaparte, which Toussaint reads and promptly accuses Bonaparte of treating him like a child. This is one of the many examples that James provides of the ways that the French betrayed their promise of ending slavery. Napoleon would support the idea of abolition in theory, but in practice would send French generals and soldiers to enforce a return to slavery. When Toussaint vows to defend abolition on the island and asks if his sons will join him, Issac says that he will not take sides against France or his father. Placide is ultimately more sympathetic to the Toussaint’s revolutionary cause than Isaac. Placide vows to unconditionally join his father, whereas Suzanne forbids either son’s involvement in Toussaint’s fight against Bonaparte. For her, the fight against an entrenched racist like Napoleon is not worth the life of any of her sons. Toussaint tells Pasquier that Crete-a-Pierrot produced a lot of deaths but Leclerc kept losing. Carruthers wrote that “no event characterized the spirit of the Irritated Genie more than Crete-a-Pierrot,” where countless of French troops lost their lives fighting armies led by Toussaint and Dessalines (65). The French recognized that, according to Toussaint, the war against Saint Domingue has no military solution. The U.S. discovered this in their military excursions in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Michael Hastings’ reporting of General Stanley McChrystal saying that basically there is no military solution in Afghanistan resulted in a change of guard that simply postponed the inevitable that caused more American deaths to be lost in the process. The film suggests that Toussaint was in a similar position, and relinquishes his position in the French military in order to prevent a civil war between France and his forces, some of whom like Henri, tragically joined the French. Pasquier asks prison officials what could be done to prolong the life of Toussaint, but the audience discovers the low regard the French had for Toussaint, when dialogue exposes that the doctor who was treating Toussaint is not a medical doctor but in fact a veterinarian. Toussaint said that Pasquier is friendlier than Leclerc who invited him to dinner yet turned over his sister’s grave to look for this supposed treasure. Napoleon gave orders to have Toussaint and his family arrested and kidnapped. It was Napoleon and Leclerc, and not Laveaux, who was responsible for Toussaint’s eventual kidnapping. Carruthers writes that “the simplicity of the French trap [to kidnap him] reveals that Toussaint was still hypnotized by the Phantom of Liberty” (70-1). For Carruthers, part of the reason he was kidnapped was because he still believed “the fantasy that whites would accept Blacks as equals” (71). About his forcible removal from France, Toussaint said in the film “in removing me, they have cut down the tree of liberty,” but “it will regrow by the roots which are deep and many.” When Toussaint was kidnapped he was no longer master of his destiny, very much like the U.S.’s deportation of Marcus Garvey, who like Toussaint in his Black nationalist beliefs embodied the importance of being a master of one’s destiny. At the end of the film, Toussaint promises to tell Pasquier the location of his treasure. A last scene shows Toussaint struggling to put a log of wood in a fire, and calling Saint Domingue “his beloved country.” Pasquier tells Louise that, after being inspired by Toussaint and paying his respects at Toussaint’s unmarked grave, he has declined his promotion from Caffarelli. Pasquier brings the French army the elusive “treasure” box they prized so dearly. When they open it, they discover the bracelet that Fatimah delivered from Boukman to Toussaint. The French Army sees no value in the bracelet that for Fatimah represented the revolutionary spirit. The film suggests that Toussaint, yet again, imputed undeserved good faith in the French Army by disclosing the real treasure of the revolution, the bracelet that symbolized revolutionary zeal, which Toussaint dropped and symbolically lost by deciding to execute Moise. Toussaint’s biggest treasure was seeing libété on his island home. He was able to fulfill what he read about in Abbe Raynal’s Histoire Des Deux Indes. Libété is something that does not have the same value for the French Army and Bonaparte as it does for Toussaint. However, Toussaint was very honest in telling Pasquier the location of the actual treasure. The French were anticipating material items that were worth some high value in their currency. What was valuable to Boukman and Fatimah was deemed worthless by the French and, after all their material trappings part of the “phantom of liberty,” ultimately Toussaint. The most valuable treasure in this film was the desire for libété from French colonialism. This libété came when one relinquished the white god in exchange for the Vodou gods who guide those who are committed to real revolution. These gods, like Papa Legba and Erzulie, appear in this film and are either called by name or shown. Jacob Carruthers’ history guided this way and also details how Dessalines’ fidelity to this value and this revolution produced an indepdendent Haiti in 1804. He writes: “After Dessalines completed Haitian independence, Europeans were forever barred from landownership until the American invasion 110 years later aided and abetted by Haitian traitors” (96). C.L.R. James writes that “Dessalines was a one sided genius, but he was the man for the crisis not Toussaint. Neither Dessalines’ army nor his ferocity won the victory. It was the people…those Black Haitian laborers and the mulattoes have given us an example to study” (361, 375). Frederick Douglass said that “the everyday Blacks of the island nation are imperiled by unrepresentative elite countrymen and their white American collaboration” (131). The film raises the perilous foreign policy of Europe and America towards Haiti today. Toussaint mentions the United States in his responses to Pasquier when he tells them that the country only negotiated with Saint Domingue to serve their own interest. Histories of Haiti by Frederick Douglass and Jacob Carruthers highlight the role of the elite in Haiti playing a “destabilizing” role in the country. The United States recently their military’s “Special Forces” to Haiti to kidnap then democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. However this could not have been accomplished without the appeal to the United States by the Haitian elite. For Carruthers, these elite fit his description of being “Haitian traitors” due to their ultimate deception by the “phantom of liberty.” Randall Robinson writes that former Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue rescinded an application that Jean-Bertrand Aristide, made to France for $21 billion that Haiti had been forced to pay France for about a century in reparations following the Haitian revolution. Robinson writes that the reward for this loyalty to France and the United States, Florida Republican Representatives Mark Foley and E. Clay Shaw Jr. introduced House Resolution 941, “Honoring the service of Gerard Latortue, Haiti’s interim prime minister” (254). The independent nation is still dealing with leaders who differ wildly in their loyalty to France, but private American and French interests capitalize on this elite loyalty in order to continuously destabilize the masses and betray Boukman’s revolutionary principles. The Resource Center quoted the president of the Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce, then Stanley Urban, who said: “I honestly believe that a dictatorship is the best form of government for these people [Haitians]. There are six million illiterates on that island. Think what the Ruskies could do there” (Tom Barry, Beth Wood, Deb Preusch, 68). While Toussaint’s aspirations for the end of slavery have been accomplished, Haiti, like many nations who achieved their independence by a force of arms, still fights foreign economic control by military-imposed destabilization. This film sheds light on the failure of using a long term military solution in addressing foreign policy differences. It also shows the indomitable will of leaders like Toussaint whose greatest treasure was seeing freedom for his fellow countrymen. The same forces, such as the “phantom of liberty” that threatened Toussaint continues to threaten Haitian independence today, and deceives “elite countrymen and their white American collaborators” into supporting coups that displace democratically elected leaders like Aristide. This force is the “phantom of liberty” that deceives African people into believing their liberty can only come with the material or financial benefit from Europeans. Bell completely ignores the role of the United States in promoting destabilization of Haiti. In his 1962 appendix to The Black Jacobins, James’ critiqued the leadership of twentieth century Haitian Prime Minister Duvalier, calling him “the uncrowned king of Latin American barbarism…It is widely believed that despite the corruption and impertinence of his regime, it is American support which keeps him in power: better Duvalier than another Castro” (409). In speaking from an elite American perspective fearful of revolutions like Fidel Castro’s, James highlights the role of the United States in destabilizing Haiti in ways that France did in this film, in order to maintain a European colony. The dependence of the film on funds from French producers again underscore Carruthers’ point that Toussaint's enterprise “depended on the recognition of legitimacy by Europe if not by France.” However this view of Toussaint is a necessary cautionary tale about the “phantom of liberty.” Jacob Carruthers wrote that “the Europeans learned much from the Haitian revolution. They did not learn the ultimate truth that the African people will never be permanently enslaved or oppressed” (111). WORKS CITED Barry, Tom, Beth Wood and Deb Preusch. The Other Side of Paradise: Foreign Control in the Caribbean. New York: Grove, 1984. Bell, Madison Smartt. Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Biography. New York: Vintage, 1987. Carruthers, Jacob. The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution. Chicago: The Kemetic Institute, 1985. Davis, Angela. “Reflections on the Role of the Black Woman in the Community of Slaves,” Massachusetts Review. 13(1/2), Winter-Spring 1972, p.81-100. Douglass, Frederick. “Lecture on Haiti, The Haitian Pavilion Dedication Ceremonies Delivered at the World’s Fair, in Jackson Park, Chicago, Jan. 2d, 1893,” in African Americans and the Haitian Revolution: Selected Essays and Historical Documents. Maurice O. Jackson and Jacqueline Bacon, eds. New York: Routledge, 2010, p.202-211. Dworkin, Ira, ed. Daughter of the Revolution: The Major Nonfiction Works of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins. New Brunswick: Rutgers, 2007. Hansberry, Lorraine. Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays. Edited With Critical Backgrounds by Robert Nemiroff. New York: Vintage, 1994. Hansberry, Lorraine. To Be Young, Gifted, and Black. Adapted by Robert Nemiroff. New York: Vintage, 1995. Jackson, Maurice O. and Jacqueline Bacon, eds. African Americans and the Haitian Revolution. New York: Routledge, 2010. James, C.L.R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1963. Robinson, Randall. An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution to the Kidnapping of A President. New York: Basic, 2007.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Review of "Holler If You Hear Me"

On Sunday, June 22, 2014 I had the opportunity to see the Broadway musical Holler If You Hear Me with my friend Juno (top right). About two months prior to reading John Potash’s book The FBI War On Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders. So as I walk out of the theater with my friend Juno, who do I see? None other than John Potash (top left). I told him how I thought the musical was interesting. He shared that he enjoyed it as well. However deep down I was hiding how confused I was by the whole story that this musical is telling. More specifically, I found a very interesting contrast between this musical’s book written by Todd Kreidler and Potash’s book The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders that I recently finished. Kreidler’s book to this musical has Tupac indicting more Black-on-Black violence as the main “culprit,” if you will, whereas Potash’s book indicts U.S. intelligence and its white supremacist ideology that helped to murder Tupac. I think that history, Tupac’s legacy will definitely side more with Potash’s book than Kreidler’s. John Potash writes that Tupac had “a precocious ability to communicate a Marxist analysis of America’s class system and other political issues. For example, in an interview for a video while he was a little known teen in high school, Tupac explained that “for the upper class,” George H.W. Bush was “a perfect president…that’s how society is built. The upper class runs [society] while…the middle and lower class, we talk about it” (50). According to him, Tupac read hundreds and hundreds of books as a teen, from socialist texts, to philosophical treatises, poetry, Shakespeare and contemporary books on feminism, historical analyses, and psychology (50). Part of the reason why the Broadway musical Holler If You Hear Me, written by Todd Kreidler is closing today, is because of its failure to show this intellectual depth of Tupac. It exposes Broadway audiences to the lyrics of Tupac, however within a very confusing story by Kreidler that only indicts Black-on-Black violence. This ultimately becomes a story that endorses white supremacy. It provides no measure of the political appeal of Tupac’s music that communicated “a Marxist analysis of America’s class system.” Kreidler’s book is a story of two brothers, Vertas and John. John’s main ambition in the play is keeping gainful employment at a car repair shop after leaving prison. We are not told why John was in prison. His brother Vertas’s ambition is more unclear. In the first act Benny, whom we are told is the individual that helped John get the car mechanic job is killed. We the audience don’t really get to know Benny so we have no sympathy for him. We have to assume he is shot because the customary Black-on-Black violence typical of urban Blacks, expressed by Kreidler’s enterprising white character Griffy who employs John. Kreidler’s best dialogue in this book is the exchange between Griffy and John when John demands more from his paycheck: it definitely uncovers deep seated prejudices that we don’t hear often on the Broadway stage. Vertas’s ambition seems to ultimately support to Anthony on his quest to help avenge Benny’s death by killing a member of the rival gang 4-5s. Gratefully, Kreidler’s book for this musical includes no character that is Tupac himself. This is a story of two brothers Vertas and John. John is a former prisoner whose paintings come to life, while Vertas is a street hustler whose mother Mrs. Weston refuses the money that his trade that “some crazy internet shit in Malaysia” is bringing in. Like James Baldwin’s critique of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son, all of Kreidlers’ characters are subject to the same issues that Baldwin pointed out in Wright’s character of Bigger Thomas: “Bigger’s tragedy is…that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits to the possibility of his being sub-human and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal criteria bequeathed to him at his birth” (18). In so many ways, both John and Vertas accept a theology that deny them life. Vertas says that “true power’s money.” John says at the end of the first act: “Two words: my paycheck. That’s all my life gets to mean.” The men in Kreidler’s book define their manhood by how much money and women they have. They show nothing of the political being that Tupac was. Vertas’s friend Benny tells the other men of their neighborhood, whom Kreidler’s script calls Soulja Boys: “I know a buncha ways to be a man. Got a list. Start with Amber then with Jasmine...” The play adulterates the Marxist-Leninst Black Panther Socialist Philosophy that helped shaped the radical thinking of Tupac Shakur. It adulterates the thinking of co-producer Afeni Shakur whose outstanding legal defense exonerated the Panther 21. Maybe no Broadway show is supposed to do this, however, Tupac’s legacy deserved more political insight that Kreidler’s book lends. Potash writes that Tupac Shakur attended meetings of the New Afrikan Panthers, a group that helped inspire his development of activism. This group included members of the revolutionary group, the New Afrikan People’s Orgnaization (NAPO). Afeni’s close friend, ex-Black Panther Watani Tyehimba, helped found NAP and served as its security director and Tupac lived with Tyehimba in 1985 and 86. (47-48). In his song “Wordz of Wisdom” from the 1991 album 2Pacalypse Now, Potash writes that Tupac called for armed rebellion to oppose racist and economic oppression of “the masses, the lower classes” by the upper class” (63). He did not employ violence for the sake of violence as Kreidler’s book suggests. In this musical’s book, violence is shown as irrational and not a necessary response to the racial and economic oppression that Black men like Eric Garner faced from the NYPD on July 17th. Anthony, a Soulja boy in Kreidler’s book, is the character who is most bent on avenging Benny’s murder. He tells the Street Preacher: “Fuck God’s plan! We want Action.” Kriedler’s script suggests that for one to believe in God, one must downplay or ignore the necessity of armed revolution to bring about social change. In Kreidler’s and his characters’ minds, there is no conception of a God that would support armed revolution in the American tradition of a Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Boukman Dutty or John Brown. Kriedler’s script panders to the division in the minds between God an armed revolutionary violence for the purpose of liberation from capitalist expression in the manner of antebellum theologians. John in reciting the lyrics of Tupac’s “Me Against the World” tells his love interest character in Corinne: “When Will I Finally Get to Rest? Through This Suppression/ They Punish the People That’s Asking The Questions / And Those That Possess, Steal From the Ones Without Possessions.” Corinne tells him “The Power is in the People We Address.” The lyrics in this exchange define Tupac’s life but nowhere do they play out in Kreidler’s book. Like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton, Tupac Shakur is a Black man who is sympathetic to socialism only honored and respected after his death. He is not honored while he is living because, as Maurice Bishop said in Bruce Paddington’s recent film about his life, his influence among the masses is feared by U.S. intelligence. Potash’s book says that Tupac is one of those who was punished for asking the questions. Whereas the oligarchs like Samantha Power and Pierre Omidyar are continue “steal from the ones without possession” by justifying imperialism even after Tupac’s death and this musical’s death. Potash writes that Tupac is essentially murdered by U.S. intelligence through the workings of police informants, Suge Knight and Dave Kenner. Potash writes that Time Warner, housed in Columbus Circle, about thirty blocks north of the Palace Theater where a the musical ran, had a long commitment to placing U.S. intelligence agents and carrying out psychological warfare against Black activist musicians as an extension of its COINTELPRO tactics (140). Like the murders of King and Malcolm X however, the murder of Tupac is not prosecuted, because of Tupac’s political beliefs that was grounded in a serious class analysis that Kreidler’s book completely misses. Charles Isherwood of The New York Times writes that the musical failed because it didn’t have “a market tested brand name” or it didn’t come from London. I think more than these factors is the commercial nature of Broadway, that demands astronomically high ticket prices from a population so crippled by austerity that the only audience members who can consistently support are same demographic that Tupac’s philosophy indicts. His music, unlike Broadway, was more about righteous class struggle than about entertainment. The climax of Kreidler’s book is Anthony’s over zealous murder of a Soulja Boy, Darius. Kreidler’s message is that violence is a youthful indiscretion that fades as one grows older and more accommodating to white supremacist capitalism. It was Anthony’s youthful zest for violence that is the culprit behind Darius’s death and Black-on-Black violence for that matter. However those who appreciate Tupac know better, and know that his music and legacy demands much more. –RF.