An allegory for freedom

Blackness, like the nation of Haiti herself, is a thing to be punished for committing the crime of daring to exist and resist.

Still from Ayiti Mon Amour.

Blackness is an empty canvas upon which myths of savagery, barbarism, incivility, and unequivocal tragedy are to be imposed. Blackness, like the nation of Haiti herself, is a thing to be punished for committing the crime of daring to exist and resist. The film Ayiti Mon Amour permits the poetics of blackness, of Haitianness, to shine through the portrayal of a normalcy that includes both strife and tranquility.

It is a depiction very rarely afforded to the black island nation, a loving presentation that could only have been offered by one of Haiti’s own. Guetty Felin’s gaze — a labor of loving truth-telling — permits a fullness of frustration, concern and affection. There is a tendency to reduce Haiti to a country set by misfortune as it is repeatedly ravaged by natural disasters. But within Felin’s world of magical realism (and within a reality where climate change is human-accelerated and global inequality is manufactured), cataclysmic meteorological forces are just one part of imperial karmic retribution continuing to penalize Haiti for endeavoring to free itself in 1791. Hostile western policies too are a material part of this punishment legacy. Whether it was France’s cruelly ironic restitutory demand for its loss of slaves in 1825 after Haiti gained its independence, Clinton-era trade policies that drowned the island in subsidized American rice and destroyed its agricultural self-sufficiency, or President Donald Trump’s all but expulsion of 60,000 Haitians in the United States, the island and its people are being continually disciplined. The film is an homage to the Haitian people: to their resilience and cultural fortitude, a dynamic negotiation of disaster, and a refusal of pornographic fixations upon tragedy and misery that drive so many illustrations of the country’s landscapes.

Ayiti Mon Amour tells the story of Orphée (Joakim Cohen), a young man who, while still mourning the loss of his father, discovers he has a magical power. He finds solace in the sacredness of his intergenerational friendship with Jaurès (Jaurès Andris), an elderly fisherman defined in almost equal part by his love for the ocean and his dedication to his ailing wife (Judith Jeudy). Jaurès and Orphée and their idiosyncrasies, uniquely represent individuals as much as they portray characteristics of the island itself. The characters represent interactions between the yearning of ambitious youths and the longings and care of elders; a desire for freedom and self-determination and the stifling conventions that cut the hamstrings of that self-actualization. The intertwinement of their stories is a skillful illustration of the interconnectedness of human fate and possibility. It shows a visceral humanity, clearly illustrated by the context of black communality in the aftermath of seemingly constant recurring trauma.

Still from Ayiti Mon Amour.

One character in particular, Ama (Anisia Uzeyman), is portrayed as the human embodiment of the motherland. She is the inspiring muse of the novel of an unappreciative writer (James Noël): a spirit who is uncared for and unloved in a way that allows her to be free. Ama, like Haiti herself, grows listless and frustrated as she, a being full of life, waits patiently for the writer to compose such a story on her behalf, but to no avail. Eventually, she, like the Atlantic Ocean after Hurricane Flora, decided that she was not coming back either. She decides to tell her own story and forge her own path.

Without fetishizing black spiritualities, Felin draws upon motifs of the African diaspora — like Haitian Vodou practices, water rituals and honorifics, and the cyclical nature of life and death — to masterfully construct visual allegories about Afro metaphysics and ancestral relations. Ayiti Mon Amour, a film produced through crowdfunding and shot with a largely local cast and production team, is an important addition to the Haitian national cinema and filmmaking scene. The film’s beauty is in its thematic and aesthetic refusal of the western cinema’s ghettoized genre of “third world cinema.” It favors emotional complexity and a vibrancy of arrangements of colors and textures over essentializing tropes about black suffering. It shows the opportunities for creation within trauma. In so many wonderful and unexpected ways, it is a film – and an opportunity – that Haiti deserves.

Further Reading

Everything must fall

Fees Must Fall (#FMF) brought student activism at South Africa’s elite universities into the global media spotlight. A new documentary zooms in on the case of Wits in Johannesburg.

Cape Town’s Inner Ugly

Patricia De Lille, one of South Africa’s most popular post-apartheid politicians, claims she tried to redress spatial apartheid in Cape Town, but the legacy of her seven year run as mayor is one of violent forced removals and a refusal to upgrade informal settlements.