…Film That Never Was, But Could Still Be & Other Films on the Haitian Revolutionary
By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act
When I spoke to Danny Glover about his long-in-development Toussaint L’Ouverture film in late 2011, this is what he had to say: “We’re still working on it; we’re in one of those periods where the idea is still alive and still resonates out there; we just have to get all the resources together to make it happen, and we believe, I believe it’s still a signature piece of our company and a piece we want most to happen.”
And when I asked about the challenges he must have been facing in trying to get a film on this subject matter financed and produced, he laughed and added: “You don’t want to hear those stories man… the stories I could write a book on… just on the process of trying to make a film about the Haitian revolution; but the project is still alive.”
Of course we’re now all familiar with Philippe Niang’s French-produced made-for-TV two-part movie on Toussaint L’Ouverture, that premiered right around the same time I had the above conversation with Glover, and which starred Jimmy Jean-Louis as the title character (above), as well as Aïssa Maïga as Toussaint’s wife, Suzanne, and Sonia Rolland as Marie-Eugénie Sonthonax, wife of abolitionist L.F. Sonthonax.
Niang’s film still hasn’t been officially released outside of France, except screenings at international film festivals, including at least 2 film festivals here in the USA; so, sadly, very few of you have actually seen it.
My guess is that it’ll be released on DVD and VOD eventually, for English-speaking audiences. I won’t be surprised if it’s already online in full or in bits and pieces, although I’m certainly not encouraging piracy.
A year after my conversation with Danny Glover (in 2012) I stumbled upon a profile of the actor in the UK Guardian newspaper, in which we learned some new bits of information on his Toussaint project: “For more than 30 years, Glover has been trying to make a biopic about the leader of the Haitian revolution. True, the story of L’Ouverture has been told before, notably in a play by CLR James that was staged in London’s West End in 1936 starring Paul Robeson, and more recently in a French TV series starring Haitian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis. But Glover believes his treatment will be the first to “”. But when will we see this directorial debut? In 2006, Glover assembled a cast including Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mos Def, and planned to shoot his film in South Africa and Venezuela, thanks to $18m (£11m) from one of Glover’s heroes, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Six years on, filming has not started. “We’ll get the film done,” says Glover. “have the epic scale these events required. We came so close so many times, you could almost taste it, man. We came that close and we’re going to do it.”
What I didn’t know at the time was that he’d already assembled a cast, so reading the above names was a surprise. I was left wondering what happened there exactly, when he received $18 million from Hugo Chavez to begin the project in 2006. That was a nice boost, although I’d guess that it probably wasn’t enough to make the kind of film he wanted to make.
And despite all the setbacks, Glover still seemed determined to get the film made. When asked why the project was so important to him, he said: “Imagine a revolt where all those people who were enslaved and dispossessed in Africa, America and round the world, heard what had happened? You imagine what that meant to them?”
That was 3 years ago. I’ve been keeping tabs on the project since then, on the alert for anything that would tells us whether it’s still alive or buried for good; and today, I learned of an interview Glover gave to Filmmaker magazine just earlier this year, in which he was, of course, asked about his long-in-development Toussaint project. And this is what he had to say when probed about what kind of movies he most wants to see in the world: “The film that we always missed is a movie on the Haitian revolution and Toussaint Louverture. The company is fortuitously named after him and that was the movie that I wanted to do. We’ve developed a script. We thought we were going to get it done four years ago. We thought we were going to be making it right now. But also there are other kinds of things that intrigue me. We’ve been fortunate that we set up a company to do something else, and then we find ourselves engaged in films from around the world. That’s the exciting part about it, and this is probably the most exciting period of my career, when I know I am not belabored with all the demands that happen when you have a franchise film.”
He added, when the interviewer asked later in the interview, whether he’d both direct and star in the project: “We started out with me directing, but the film for me is an important film. So if I’m not able to direct it, I would like to find somebody else who is able to direct it. There are several directors that I have in mind who’d be interested in the possibility. I think Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ just opened up the possibility of another space for filmmaking.”
And that was the extent of the conversation on the project. Obviously, it’s not dead, and he’s still hopeful that it will get made – at least as of that interview, which was published in January of this year. That’s the most recent item I could find in which he talks about the film.
But it doesn’t apear to be a sure-thing either; though he seems committed to seeing it come to fruition, eventually.
Long time readers of this blog may remember Med Hondo, the Mauritanian director, producer, screenwriter & actor, who claims that Glover’s Toussaint Louverture project is in fact based on his (Hondo’s) own original screenplay; it was in 2010 when we reported on the damning open letter to Glover that Hondo penned, expressing his concerns.
As a recap, the intriguing short version of the story goes… Hondo said he’d been working on a biopic of Toussaint Louverture when he first met Danny Glover in 1991. Glover, taken by the project, made it known to Hondo that he would like to play the role of the Haitian revolutionary in, presumably, Hondo’s film.
Hondo claims that Glover then paid for an English translation of Hondo’s script, before disappearing with it, allegedly cutting off all communication with Hondo and his co-writer Claude Veillot.
And thus, as Hondo insists, the film Glover has been trying to make for about 3 decades now, is his own original screenplay. No word on whether that concern has been resolved on either side, and what that could mean for any Danny Glover Toussaint film in the future.
Also worth noting, Euzhan Palcy told us in an interview in May of this year that she has also long been working on a Toussaint film. In fact, as she said, 2 months ago, she and Glover were actually working on the same Toussaint film together initially, but, due to some differences which she didn’t elaborate on, they split, and she went on to develop her own Toussaint project. Here’s what she said specifically: “I’ve had that project for more than 20 years. It was very difficult to get people to finance it because it’s in Haiti and it’s about Toussaint Louverture, so people did not want to be a part of it. Same thing when I wanted to make my movie about South Africa, no one wanted to touch it and finally I was able to get it made with MGM. Danny Glover and I had the same project. In fact, we were partners. Things didn’t work out well between us, so I left with my project. He still wanted to make the movie, so he went his way and I went my way. I never gave up on it because I truly believe Toussaint Louverture is a very important character in world history. People don’t know about him and they have to know about that man because he was a humanist, a great leader.”
Philippe Niang’s 2-part telepic was financed by various French entities, made specifically for a French-speaking audience. So his was not a project backed by American companies. I say that because I think any Toussaint L’Ouverture film worth its salt will very likely be funded by non-American film studios or financiers. I certainly could be proven wrong about that in the future, but I’ll stand by that statement until then.
It’s been 3 years since Niang’s film premiered. No American distributor has picked it up yet, and there’s no obvious sign that there’s any interest in it.
Clearly there’s a significant enough audience around the world who are hungry for a film (a good film) made on this particular historical figure; so much that if a film of the “epic” quality Glover talks about were made, I’d like to believe it would indeed be a commercial success.
Why? It’s a story that really hasn’t been told on film in the USA, and on the “epic” scale that it deserves; It’s a story that features blacks in revolt and in control of their own destinies, absent of any white interference, inspiration, or *savior*, as is often the case in films of this nature. Countless black people are anxious to see narratives like that on screen. I’d even say that it’s the kind of excitement fanboys display over trailers for the next superhero blockbuster movie.
So, won’t it behoove some studio executive, to investigate the possibilities here? Especially at a time when “diversity” is a buzz word, and black is suddenly the new green. Or, is it in fact a lie that Hollywood is motivated strictly by profit, and there are other unspoken rules that influence decision makers, and thus a story that highlights a monumental accomplishment by black people, absent of a white hero on horseback, just isn’t of interest to, or will be suppressed by the predominantly white-run industry? And further, does that then mean that blacks in Hollywood with the resources, take note of all I’ve said here (some of them read this site I’m sure), and instead finance and produce the film themselves (or pick up Niang’s film and make it available to USA audiences, even if it’s only on DVD), rather than wait for the studios to do so?
I can’t help but believe that a wonderful opportunity is being completely overlooked here, and the person or people who finally decide to take the risk, will be well-rewarded for doing so. I wouldn’t hold my breath for Glover’s film though. It’s been a very long wait, and there doesn’t seem to have been much progress made since my last update 3 years ago.Tags: Aïssa Maïga, Angela Bassett, Chiwetel Ejiofor, CLR James, Danny Glover, Euzhan Palcy, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Med Hondo, Paul Robeson, Philippe Niang, Sonia Rolland, Steve McQueen, Wesley Snipes, Yasiin Bey