Part of African Odysseys at the BFI Southbank now in its 15th year
The ‘Negro Moses’ arrived on the scene on August 17, 1887 in the tiny seaside town of St. Ann’s Bay on the northern coast of Jamaica, fifty-three years after slavery was abolished in that country. In his short life Marcus Mosiah Garvey, would go on to become the world’s foremost Pan-Africanist and, in some eyes, the greatest civil-rights leader of the twentieth century. He dedicated his life to the project of redeeming Africa, which he saw as the home to civilization.
While his brand of talk appealed to millions of ardent followers, it also earned him some powerful enemies around the world, such as W.E.B. Du Bois of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and J. Edgar Hoover, a young government attorney fresh out of law school and working with the United States Bureau of Investigation (later the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI]).
Award-winning director Roy T. Anderson peels back all the layers in his presentation of this oft- misunderstood and controversial figure in “African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey”, a 85-minute feature-length documentary-film. Emmy-award winning actor Keith David (Greenleaf, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Crash) lends his voice as narrator on the film.
As a young man Marcus Garvey was well traveled. While touring several countries in Europe in 1913, and after witnessing the poor treatment of black workers in all the countries he worked and visited, Marcus Garvey got the idea to form an international organization to fight for the rights of Black people worldwide. Influenced greatly by Booker T. Washington, he formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) and launched it fittingly on Emancipation Day August 1, 1914 in Kingston, Jamaica.
Garvey took his message to the United States during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, arriving at a time when there was a vacuum in Black leadership. He soared to prominence for his message of Black pride. Through the UNIA-ACL, Garvey importantly stressed the goal of self-reliance, and encouraged nationhood or political self-determination. He was determined to upset the status quo. And as one writer puts it; “Marcus Garvey awaked a race consciousness that made Harlem felt around the world.”
Garvey launched several business ventures, including The Negro Factories Corporations, Black Cross Nurses, and most notably a steamship venture known as the Black Star Line. It was the formation of the latter that drew the ire of the black elite, and J. Edgar Hoover, who sought any opportunity to remove Garvey from the United States. Marcus Garvey was eventually charged with mail fraud in 1922, convicted and imprisoned in 1923, and deported to Jamaica in 1927.
While Garvey’s followers numbered more than four million, there were over one thousand UNIA-ACL branches around the world, with its international headquarters alternating between Harlem, New York, Kingston, Jamaica, and London, England, where he passed away in 1940.
Even after his death Garvey’s philosophy has impacted many social and political movements in Jamaica and around the world. United States’ civil rights leader Malcolm X, once said, “Every time you see another nation on the African continent become independent you know that Marcus Garvey is alive.” Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, stated, “His achievement remains one of the propagandistic miracles of this century.”
Filmed in Jamaica, Ghana, Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, and Central America over the course of three years, the film features interviews and conversations with world-renowned leaders, scholars, and personalities, as well as present-day followers of Marcus Garvey teachings, such as the group known as Rastafari, perhaps the most ardent disciples of this iconic figure.
As we seek to uncover the history and legacy of the world’s most famous Pan-Africanist, his intriguing story is also told through songs, poetry, narration, and a mix of photographs, illustrations, archival footage, and dramatizations.
Following on the heels of “Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess”, (Action 4 Reel Flimworks, 2015), Anderson’s award-winning film on Jamaica’s only national heroine, comes “African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey”, chronicling the story of an unparalled civil-rights leader.
Roy T. Anderson is writer, director and producer of the award-winning films “Akwantu: the Journey” (2012), on the history of the Jamaican Maroons; and “Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess” (2015), his sophomore film which expands on the story of the New World’s first successful freedom fighters, by shedding light on one of the leading figures in that struggle – Nanny of the Maroons. Roy is a veteran movie and television stuntman/stunt coordinator. During his stellar career he’s performed stunts for Hollywood stars like Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, and Morgan Freeman, to name a few; accumulating more than 400 production credits in the process, working on such hits as; “Men in Black 3”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Spiderman 2”, “Bourne Ultimatum”, “American Gangster”, “Wolf of Wall Street”; and top rated TV series “Blue Bloods”, “Person of Interest”, “Elementary”, and “Gotham”. While continuing stunt work, Anderson aims to bring more underrepresented stories to the cinematic landscape through his New Jersey-based production company, Action 4 Reel Flimworks. He is currently in production on a docu-drama on the life of famed Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey that will be directed and produced by Roy, alongside Emmy-Award winning actor Keith David who also serves as the film’s narrator.
Back in early 2015 Dr. Julius Garvey, the youngest son of Marcus Garvey, reached out to me wanting to find out if I was interested in collaborating with him on a project about his famous father. I was extremely honored, but honestly was not ready to take on such a huge undertaking; since I was wrapping up work on my second film about the Maroons of Jamaica. I told Dr. Garvey that a film about his father would require one hundred percent effort on my part. As luck would have it, we did re-connect after my film was completed and we started to talk about the framework of a film on his father.
For all his greatness, Marcus Garvey has often been portrayed as a caricature, and someone marginalized by history. Foremost in our minds was telling a story of this oft-misunderstood man, in a way that was not only objective, and balanced, but insightful and engaging. He may not be the most famous Jamaican (that title goes to iconic reggae singer Bob Marley). But who would have thought that this simple country boy, born almost fifty years after slavery was abolished in the British colonies, would go on to provide the most comprehensive blueprint for the liberation of his people.
Our film sheds light on the world’s foremost Pan-Africanist, and look at the extraordinary achievements of a great man considered by many as the greatest mass leader of the twentieth century, as expressed to us by noted scholars, public officials, and lay persons. The story unfolds in places like the Caribbean and Central America, Europe, and the North American continent; mirroring Garvey’s travels where he observed the harsh and brutal working conditions of his people. It also takes place on the African continent, where sadly Marcus Garvey was not permitted by Colonial officials to set foot. Our visual style for the film blend live action with breathtaking still photography, archival images, and illustrations to provide a window into the life of a man rarely seen in contemporary culture. Garvey’s omniscient voice and oratory are the spine that hold these story elements together.
While continuing my day job as a movie stuntman, I was now engaged in another labor of love; eventually taking the lead in developing the film and driving it forward, with an aim towards completing a trilogy; documenting the resistance history of African-descended people in the Americas. These are stories not often told and I was proud to be the driver once again.
In its own unique way, this ground-breaking film also highlights Rastafari – a group greatly influenced by Garvey’s teaching; and engage other personalities whose lives have been touched in one way or the other by him. The list includes individuals like award-winning American actors Louis Gossett, Jr. and Danny Glover; Grammy Award-winning reggae singer, Sean Paul; White nationalist leader Jared Taylor; David Hinds, lead singer for the reggae group Steel Pulse; Charles Rangel, retired United States Congressman; and Julius Garvey, youngest son of Marcus Garvey.
I’m just so thankful to everyone who came together to make this film possible