West Indies ou Les Nègres marrons de la liberté
Med Hondo’s West Indies ou Les Nègres marrons de la liberté, adapted from playwright Daniel Boukman’s Les négriers: théâtre, is a widescreen musical that takes place entirely on a single set – a giant slave ship that symbolizes the triangular relationship between Africa, Europe and the Caribbean – as it explores the parallels between the forced migration of the Atlantic slave trade and the contemporary migration of Afro-Caribbean subjects to former colonial metropoles. In a breathtaking display of virtuosity, Hondo deftly uses an array of filmic techniques (a vertically oriented mise en scène, dexterous tracking shots, beautifully orchestrated long takes) to explore four centuries of history within his single location, signalling temporal shifts through fluid camera movements and sumptuous staging; meanwhile, the remarkable range of musical styles, witty, poignant, and rousing lyrics, and brilliant choreography dazzle the senses and invite the spectator to join in the struggle to transform the world.
Filmmaker Barry Jenkins classifies West Indies as a live “hand grande,” while author Maryse Condé links Hondo’s film as summoning “people whose past is marked by oppression, whose present results from aborted promises and whose future is left to be conquered.”
In 2021, Harvard Film Archive completed the digital restoration of West Indies ou Les Nègres marrons de la liberté and plans to distribute next year.