Haiti: The Way of Freedom is an eye-opening insight into the history of a country that many of us will know little about. Arnold Antonin’s 1975 powerful documentary captivates you as we watch those fight for their rights to be free.
Said to be the first Haitian feature-length film, filmmaker Arnold Antonin delves into the rich and tumultuous history of Haiti, the first independent black republic in the world.
As we learn about the beginnings of occupied Haiti, harking back all the way to the days to when Christopher Columbus “discovered” the island, we forget how horrifically destructive European countries were to the indigenous populations, in this case, the Taíno people. As he says, the generosity of the Taíno people will be their ruin. They see the Spanish landing party as Gods when they were the exact opposite. Decimating the population and bringing in vast numbers of enslaved people from Africa, the French and Spanish soon made Haiti one of the wealthiest colonies in the world due to the sugarcane plantations. Here, Antonin provides grim drawings of what would occur in the early 17th century.
Immediately, you are under no illusion of his intent here. He wants to rightfully be sickened by the actions of the Europeans, who, as they did everywhere in the world that they could, took the land of the indigenous population and profited of it and the people they brought there. However, he starts the theme that runs the whole way through Haiti: The Way of Freedom, of rebellion, of people wanting and fighting for their rights to be free. From those enslaved people who fought on the boats over to Haiti from Africa to those in 1791 who fought in the Haitian Revolution, there is a spirit within the people that never leaves, even generations after the fact.
From the likes of Caonabo, a Taíno chieftain in 1496, and General Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haitians and enslaved people showed the will to not submit to the wants of those who had taken their land or from those who dragged them across an ocean. Where Dessalines fell into a world of tyranny, the belief remained, though struggled all the way to 1986, thanks to multiple occupations and wars, until finally, the rule of the Duvaliers became the final straw.
The graphic nature, be it archival footage or centuries-old etchings, strikes a nerve in you that doesn’t qualm until long after viewing. Perhaps he did it for the shock value. Still, it feels more that Antonin went this route for his film to just make us aware of how violent the history of this nation has been and how much of a struggle that the Haitians have had to endure from those outside of their country and even those from within. We need to see the pain that the Haitians have felt for centuries to understand the importance of them finding unity and rebuilding themselves to be the country they should be.
Yet, Antonin is self-aware to not bombard us for the entirety of Haiti: The Way of Freedom with these images, as he switches tact and allows people trying to remove Duvalier from power to stop his continuous corruption from ruining their country before it is too late. It is here where the film really finds its stride, and you feel galvanised to want to help or do something. Antonin’s bravery in releasing such a film and actively advocating for it to be used in any educational setting that would help remove Jean-Claude Duvalier from power is immense.
Haiti: The Way of Freedom shows us the strength of the Haitian people, their ability to persevere, but most importantly, their ability to ensure that their children can live in a country that is safe from abject corruption and fascism. An enlightening gem of a documentary.
Haiti: The Way of Freedom is showing at the Visions of Haiti Film Season at the Barbican Cinema on Friday 20th October at 18:20. Tickets are on sale now.
For more information about the season please click here.
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