Jamaican-born filmmaker Roy T. Anderson tackles the legacy of Political Activist Marcus Garvey in his latest film.
Premiering at the BFI Southbank this weekend, African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey documents the Life and Legacy of Marcus Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s rise to prominence and his impact on political leaders and civil rights activities, globally.
Wearing his heritage on his sleeve, we spoke to Anderson about his transition from seasoned stuntman to respected documentarian and why now is the right time for a film about Mr Garvey and his impactful legacy …
Please introduce yourself …
Roy T. Anderson. I was born in Jamaica in 1962; moved with my family to Toronto in 1974; migrated to the United States in 1998. I’m a veteran stuntman/stunt coordinator, turned filmmmaker.
Share a word or sentence that best describes your life right now …
It’s been a challenge trying to navigate the world of filmmaking and stunt work – but I’ve managed to do just that in the last 13 years. I’m determined.
Congratulations, your film African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey premieres at the BFI this weekend. What’s that feeling of anticipation when you know you’re going to release your work to an audience, and have it be celebrated in a premiere setting – which is obviously a bit more pomp and glory?
Thank you. I’m really excited and looking forward to seeing what the reception will be for the film. The reception at the various film festival and special screenings so far has been overall very positive, but nothing beats a premiere. This UK premiere is a big one for me. I’m getting to reintroduce Marcus Garvey to a brand new audience.
How and why did you partner up with Kol Social for the event?
I was introduced to Kol Social by my producing partner Derren Lawford, who has a previous business relationship with the principal of that company Marcia Degia.
Tell us where you were in your personal life that inspired the journey to make African Redemption?
I was initially approached in late 2013 by Dr. Julius Garvey, the youngest son of Marcus Garvey, to collaborate with him on a documentary about his famous father. That was the initial thrust. Eventually, I became the main driver and started principal photography in December 2016. Since 2009 I’ve been working to make sure that our untold stories are told through a lens that does justice to our history. African Redemption is one of those stories.
And though it’s about Marcus Garvey, can you tell us what else runs through the narrative – what other themes fill it out?
Major themes of the film are civil rights and social and political activism. One thing the film definitely shows is how relevant Garvey’s message is today – and the continuity in black activism, evident in the Black Lives Matter movement and others.
There have been a few docs about Marcus, some rumours about a fictionalisation via film and TV series, but so far, and maybe that’s to my limited knowledge – not a piece of media content that truly captures the attention of the world about this iconic black leader – Why do you think that is?
Maybe those presenters did not take the time to actually get to know Garvey, to understand him, to really appreciate what he was able to accomplish. The prevailing narrative has been one that has presented Garvey as a caricature, someone marginalised by history. I wanted to change that. Based on the reactions and the feedback that I have gotten so far, I believe I was able to do that. One writer wrote that African Redemption is the “definitive Marcus Garvey documentary“.
Tell us some of the challenges that you faced directing this piece – from finding authentic and original source material, to structuring the story you wanted to tell without over-telling or under-telling Marcus’ story?
One of the biggest challenges for me was finding archival video and audio of Garvey – almost non-existent. So I had to draw on my skills as a creative in terms of the re-enactments and dramatisations to tell the story in a way that humanises this important man. There was no shortage however of source materials. This really helped to inform me to tell the complete story – warts and all.
Depending on your prior knowledge of Marcus Garvey before making this film, was there anything you learned about him that surprised you, inspired you, affected you in any way?
I’m constantly learning about Garvey. My mantra is “school is always in session“.
A bit about yourself, your CV is so impressive, as a stuntman, to actor, to filmmaker. You’ve worked on some major projects as a stuntman – can you tell us a bit about how and why stunt work was attractive to you?
I did not set out to be a stuntman. I was actually planning on being a sports broadcaster. But having an extensive sports background made the entrée into stunts quite seamlessly way, way back in 1981, when I worked on a film with a pre “Family Ties” Michael J. Fox. And here we are in 2022, I’m still falling and jumping – but not maybe to the level of 10-20 years ago. Now I teach the young ones to do that.
How did you make that transition from in front of the camera to behind it and was it difficult to convince the industry to take you seriously?
You know as a stuntman, we’re seen but not actually, because we’re doing the stunts in for the stars. So in a way, I consider that behind-the-scenes, just like what I’m doing now as a filmmaker. In terms of what others think, I tend to drown out all the outside noise. The work is getting done.
Your previous documentaries Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess (2015) and Akwantu: The Journey (2012) also focus on Jamaican culture and historical icons, what’s your mission as a filmmaker, and specifically as one with Jamaican heritage?
My mission is to tell the untold stories, through a lens that does not glorify the hunter. The lions and lionesses are now telling the story.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
- A book you have to have in your collection? White Rage, by Carol Anderson
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Buffalo Soldier, by Bob Marley
- A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Summer of Soul, by Questlove
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you? The Jacksons at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in 1981. Great to be a part of history.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? All positive this week looking forward to UK premiere of my film.
African Redemption: The Life and Legacy of Marcus Garvey premieres at the BFI Saturday 5th February. Find out more and book tickets here.