‘Unbelievable’ Barrow film

Comissiong critiques Freedom Fighter production

I would like to begin by giving credit to Mrs Marcia Weekes – the executive producer and director of the docu-drama. Mrs Weekes is to be complimented for having had the vision and patriotism to recognize that the commemoration of Barbados’ 50th anniversary of Independence demanded the production of a major film on the subject of our people’s struggle to attain Independence/nationhood/sovereignty/freedom.

Writer Marcia Weekes

Mrs Weekes is also to be complimented for having exhibited the will and determination to bring this project to fruition, and for striving for and achieving the very high international quality technical production standards that distinguish this new Bajan movie.

Indeed, Mrs Weekes’ contribution to the national effort to commemorate our country’s Golden Jubilee far outstripped our Government’s unimaginative staging of multiple mundane concerts, and their manifestly backward and reactionary parading of Britain’s Prince Harry at the supposedly climactic events of the year-long national commemoration.

The bad news however, is that Barrow – Freedom Fighter – in spite of its technical excellence – turned out to be a seriously flawed and deficient depiction of the life of the Right Excellent Errol Barrow.

Omissions

Let us begin with the many omissions that marred the docu-drama.

If a movie is to do justice to the story of Errol Barrow as a “fighter” who helped pave the way to Barbados attaining Independence, then surely it must pay some attention to the several monumental battles that took place between Mr Barrow and  the other acknowledged political titans of the day, as historic contests that shaped the contours of the great man’s career. Surely, the story of Errol Barrow’s career as a statesman cannot be properly told without dwelling to some extent on his battles with such other heavyweights as:-

(1) Sir Grantley Adams – from 1952 to 1966, on a whole range of issues pertaining to relations with the colonial Governor, constitutional advancement of the then colony of Barbados, and the contest for electoral supremacy within Barbados;

(2) Wynter Crawford and Erskine Ward – from 1965 to 1966, on the struggle waged by these powerful Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government ministers within the Cabinet and inside the DLP itself to determine whether Barbados should go into Independence alone or persist with the effort to establish and lead a Federation of the Eastern Caribbean into Independence; and

(3) Ernest Deighton Mottley – from 1965 to 1967, in the House of Assembly and in many a public meeting in the streets of Bridgetown over both the issue of “Independence alone or within a Federation” and the issue of whether Local Government structures (the locus of Mottley’s power) should be retained.

Regrettably, none of these major and historic Barbadian personalities of the day (with the exception of Mottley) are even mentioned by name, much less depicted, in the movie.

And please don’t tell me that there was not enough time to cover this ground in the movie, because more than 20 minutes of the docu-drama were devoted to the trivial issue of Mr Barrow’s love of food, while another sizeable portion of the film was squandered on Mrs Margaret Knight’s apparent obsession with the fact that when she served as Barrow’s personal secretary he once took objection to the manner in which she added punctuation marks to a letter he had drafted.

Furthermore, there were also similar gaping omissions relating to the many persons who played seminal roles in the accomplishing of several achievements that the film misleadingly attributes to Barrow alone. For example, one simply cannot do justice to the story of the establishment of free secondary education without at least referring to the contribution of one T.T. Lewis, or to the story of the creation of the National Insurance Scheme without mentioning the critical contribution of the great Wynter Algernon Crawford. Yet this is precisely what the movie does!

Great man concept of history

Indeed, the major flaw of Barrow – Freedom Fighter is that it serves to perpetuate the long debunked and discredited “Great Man” concept of history. Simply put, the movie leaves the viewer with the impression that the only person of true significance and agency during the “Barrow era” was Errol Barrow himself.

And I can give multiple examples of this. Just imagine – in a movie that purports to deal with national development in Barbados in the pre and post Independence years, there is no mention whatsoever of such close collaborators of Errol Barrow as Sir James (Cameron) Tudor or Brandford Taitt!

This is extremely unfortunate because, even while we rightfully credit Mr Barrow with being the maximum political leader who presided over this seminal period in our nation’s history, the reality is that he did not (and could not) do it alone.

There is a very great danger therefore that young impressionable Barbadians who view the movie will come away with the false impression that progress in a society is generated by the efforts of an individual “Great Leader”, rather than with an understanding that progress is the product of the commitment and actions of a multiplicity of engaged and active citizens.

Trivializing the struggle

And then there is the problem of the trivializing of the struggle for Independence itself! According to the movie, the real drama in the struggle for Independence revolved around the British Secretary of State for the Colonies refusing to chair the England-based Barbados Constitutional Conference unless Mr Barrow first apologized for some comment that Barrow had allegedly made about him.

Surely, instead of focusing on this relatively trivial event, it would have been better to give viewers a sense of the long trajectory of the true struggle for Independence, ranging from the Bussa Rebellion of 1816, the People’s Uprising of 1937, the many popular (and often armed) anti-colonial rebellions that that took place throughout Africa in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, and to Mr Barrow’s own battles with the British Colonial Office during the long and tortuous struggle over the proposed Eastern Caribbean federation.

During the decade of the 1950’s the British government made it clear that it had no intention of granting Independence to Barbados and their other Caribbean colonies in the foreseeable future. What caused the British government to change its mind? The answer to this question is to be found in the heroic armed struggles that took place in Kenya, Algeria, Ghana, Cuba, the Congo, Rhodesia and South Africa, and the fear that these revolts aroused in the British that — just like in the 1930’s — similar struggles could once again take place in the Caribbean if they did not radically speed up the timetable for Independence.

Other elements of “trivializing” are to be found in Mrs Weekes’ decision to have a pioneering movie about the “father” of Barbadian Independence not only narrated by a North American, but to also have the Errol Barrow lead character played by an actor who is also essentially North American. This was truly unbelievable.

The class issue

And then there is the class issue. A large part of the movie comprises interviews done with various residents or citizens of Barbados. But in all the interviews done, no time or space was found for a single interview with a working class Barbadian!  Apparently, while space could be found to accommodate opinions about Mr Barrow by such persons as Mrs Ram Merchandani and Mr and Mrs Taan Abed, it was not found possible to ask a single ordinary working class Barbadian — not even a resident of Mr Barrow’s St John constituency — their opinion of this exceptional Barbadian.

Taan Abed

The class issue also reared its head in the portrayals of the various members of the 1966 House of Assembly. All but one of the MPs were portrayed as serious persons. For some reason, the only MP who was portrayed as a comical clown who indulged in belching loudly in the House of Assembly was the quintessential working class parliamentarian LLoyd Boy Child Smith. Why are we in Barbados still at the stage where we conceive of working class Barbadians as easy sources of farce and comedy?

Conclusion

I began this critique by giving Mrs Marcia Weekes credit for making the effort to produce a pioneering biographical movie about the great Errol Barrow, but unfortunately I have to end my critique with the conclusion that the effort was something less than successful. In my opinion there are simply too many flaws in the movie for it to qualify as a satisfying depiction of the life and record of our “Father of Independence”.

But, maybe Barrow – Freedom Fighter can be regarded as a valiant first attempt that will inspire other intrepid Barbadian filmmakers to, as the Americans say, step up to the plate, follow Mrs Weekes’ lead, and make the effort to produce not only the definitive Errol Barrow movie, but all of the other essential local biographical docu-dramas that Barbados so desperately needs and deserves.

8 Responses to ‘Unbelievable’ Barrow film

  1. Wade Gibbons
    Wade Gibbons December 29, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Excellent critique.

    Reply
  2. Hewers of wood December 29, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Reading this article one should first ask themselves what does a freedom fighter really mean. I believe these so called freedom fighters knew what they were up against. The great Eagle a bird of prey showing no favor to the young or old and having no remorse committing global carnage. Marcus Garvey, Malcom X, Martin luther king etc. Even MLK in an interview said that he felt that he had led his people into a burning house. When there was segregation our people should have stayed separate and we would have achieved much more including businesses, planes, trains, cruise liners, a true army etc and trade among our own people. I do not think that EWB truly achieved independence for Barbados but that it was given to him as THEY had no more uses for our people. Things should also have been done on a confederate level with the other islands too.Our people at this point is in an education system which is designed to keep them at the bottom of society eating crumbs from under the table, continuing to work for the children of the same people who oppressed them at the beginning. Their culture they hold dearly is what was given to them by their oppressor including church. They envy their oppressors by dressing and trying to look like them. Nothing was dismantled at all.
    The class review: The act by this person of diluting the struggle in the film is what happens when a people are truly destroyed, physically and mentally. They do not want to offend or bring the elephant into the room. But the elephant is necessary in order to continue to weed out the misconceptions and idiocy that our people and the children of the oppressor still have to this day. Our people are mis-educated and they too about a lot of things. But i do not think they care as they currently hold all the ACES in the pack but this will be to their detriment.
    This woman/film producer will only interview their oppressors as the working class and leave out the true broke back working people at the bottom because they see things from a capitalist perspective and due to brainwashing also. Why do we continue to forget our brothers and sisters in the USA who continue to smell hell, they are part of this struggle. There cannot be true independence if the same people are at the top and the same people are at the bottom.
    Maybe we should have stayed without independence like BVI, Anguilla etc and drink from that British breast of milk and honey. After all the cow got fat off the backs of our people in the first place. But then with a terrorist statue of nelson sitting in Bridgetown says it all. The more things change the more they remain the same this is why Barbados is now one big plantation,

    Reply
  3. Hewers of wood December 29, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Pretty fair critique though.

    Reply
  4. jrsmith December 29, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    @, Hewers of W, hail, hail on the button 29 lines of history which can be serious discussions of each line..
    My take we have had 50 years of (Independent ) ( Dependency ) we are still at the cross roads..yesterday’s news is history where are we going ,what are we doing .
    Must not forget the great man ( EWB) our hero…..

    Reply
  5. Jennifer December 29, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    jrsmith – luv it – Dependency. I agree, we must not forget EWB. The problem is that if you forget history or you do not know it or it is taught watered down, (especially in the schools) then you run the risk of repeating the same mistakes in another form, hence this is why we remain at the cross road with the tin cup in hand.

    Reply
  6. seagul December 29, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    The social justice issue has always been central to black politics, but that does not mean that there is not conflict. And the conflict stems from the basic social justice progressivism of black folks in the rank-and-file and those leaders who have been chosen and given access to the implements of at least nominal power by forces outside of the community. So we have to wage constant struggle within the community not to just have black faces in place, but to have democracy within this black nation.
    The Right Honorable….E.W. Barrow.

    Reply
  7. Jennifer December 29, 2016 at 3:55 pm

    Democracy without ownership of anything major don’t mean a dam thing.

    Reply
  8. mikey December 29, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    What is/are being critique ???
    Ms. Weekes, EWB, Independence, Britain, the other Politicians of the then period, Post-independent Barbados, the politicians of today ? WHAT ???
    YOU COMMENTATORS ARE 2 BRITE BUT NOT SHINING !!!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *