Friday, March 23, 2007

Not Showing in a Theater Near You: Why Amazing Grace hasn't come to the Caribbean

Thanks to the persistant detective work of Nicolette Bethel, we finally have an answer as to why Galleria Cinemas is NOT showing Amazing Grace in the Bahamas, at least not for now. Apparently, the movie is in limited release--having opened in the U.S. on February 23rd and, now, slated to begin showing today, March 23rd, in the U.K. and Ireland. In the meantime, Galleria Cinemas' distributor has agreed to let them know when, or if, the film is available to be shown locally.

The irony here is that even though the people of the Bahamas, along with their Caribbean neighbors, are the primary beneficiaries of the abolition of the slave trade, they will not have the opportunity to see the film in conjuction with this weekend's bicentennial observances. Bethel elaborates on this irony:

If the film is not intended to be released in the Caribbean at the time of the Bicentenary of the Abolition, then that is a significant lapse of judgement of the filmmakers and the studio. There is really very little to be gained, either for history or for Christianity itself, to show the film in the homes of the people who perpetrated the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and not to do so in the homes of the societies that were created by that very trade.

Something is askew.
Yes, something is indeed askew! But given the nature of the pre-film publicity, we should not really be surprised. Nearly a month ago, I observed that:

In the United States and Great Britain, for example, many well-meaning Christians are using the bicentennial of abolition [and the publicity surrounding the release of the film Amazing Grace] to raise awareness of and generate support for campaigns against modern day forms of slavery such as child labor, prostitution, and human trafficking. While I applaud these important efforts, I am concerned that they have largely obscured the legacy of slavery that still persists for Bahamian and Caribbean descendants of the liberated Africans and slaves who originally benefited from abolition.
While I don't believe that any of these oversights are intentional, let alone sinister, I do believe they tell us a lot about the worldview of the of the folks who are distributing and promoting the film. Basically, theirs is a worldview that--consciously or subconsciously--assumes that the evils of slavery came to and end with the abolition of the slave trade and, subsequently, emancipation. It is also a worldview that recognizes that slavery--understood as physical bondage--continues to exist in the world today and, more importantly, it is a worldview rooted in a moral passion to fight this injustice. Hence, they have siezed upon an inspirational event in history and held it up as a model to emulate as they seek to abolish modern day forms of slavery.

For the most part, this is a good thing. The problem, however, is that such a worldview ignores the fact that while abolition and emancipation brought an end to the physical bondage of Caribbean slavery, they did not come anywhere close to bringing an end to the economic systems that allowed and continue to allow one group of people to unfairly benefit from the labor of another (for more on this topic see my post on the legacy of the Atlantic slave trade). More critically, this worldview fails to acknowledge that the Caribbean descendents of liberated Africans and slaves are still struggling today with injustices perpetuated by the descendents of former slave traders and slave owners.

One reason for this, perhaps, is that it is easier to fight against injustices, such as human trafficking or prostitution, in which one is not directly involved. But for those of us--like myself--who are the descendents of countries who profited from the slave trade, it is much more difficult to join Caribbean peoples in their modern day struggle for full emancipation because to do so is to admit that we are still beneficiaries of the modern day economic systems which keep them enslaved.

Even two-hundred years after the fact, there a great need for reconciliation between the countries who benefited from the slave trade and those that were created by the slave trade. The failure of Amazing Grace's promoters to include the Caribbean in their efforts is not the problem so much as a symptom of something much more serious, our failure to recognize that while abolition and emancipation were important steps in the right direction toward mutual reconciliation, they were just the beginning of the journey, not the end.

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2 Comments:

At Friday, March 23, 2007 at 11:24:00 PM EST , Blogger Frances-Anne said...

"While I don't believe that any of these oversights are intentional, let alone sinister, I do believe they tell us a lot about the worldview of the of the folks who are distributing and promoting the film. Basically, theirs is a worldview that--consciously or subconsciously--assumes that the evils of slavery came to and end with the abolition of the slave trade and, subsequently, emancipation."
The problem is that these people ( and the makers of the film) are the the first to get "bored" and irritated when we the descendants of slaves demand reparations, or even a voice at the table when discussing the historical events and their repercussions. Whether consious or not, it is the most insidious (and totalitarian) form of cultural censorship: making sure that the story (our story) continues to be controlled by the descendents of colonisers.

 
At Monday, March 26, 2007 at 11:19:00 AM EST , Blogger haitianministries said...

Frances-Anne,

Thanks for stopping by. You're absolutely right! And the fact that such processes are often unconscious make them more difficult to address (and, hence, even more insidious).

 

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