Mauritanian French director Med Hondo’s West Indies: The Fugitive Slaves of Liberty proved a watershed event for African cinema—the continent’s first musical as well as a sui generis amalgam of historical epic, Broadway revue, Brechtian theater, and joyous agitprop. Using an enormous mock slave ship as the film’s only soundstage, Hondo mounts intricately choreographed reenactments and dance numbers across his multipurpose set to investigate more than three centuries of imperialist oppression. The story traverses the West Indies, Europe, and the Middle Passage; jumps across time to depict the effects of official French policy upon the colonized, the enslaved, and their descendants; and surveys the actions and motivations of the resigned, the revolutionary, and the powers that be (along with their lackeys).No mere extravaganza, West Indies is a call to arms for a spectacular yet critical cinematic reimagining of an entire people’s history of resistance and struggle.
Digitally restored by the Harvard Film Archive and Ciné-Archives using the original 35mm picture negative and magnetic track. Financial support provided by the McMillan Stewart Foundation. Film services by Blackhawk Films and Lumières Numériques.