The documentary film festival “Les hommes de la liberté” underway at the auditorium of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, hosted by the General Overseas Delegation of the City of Paris and the European Overseas Federation, May 11 to 15, 2009 (see previous post “Documentary Film Festival: Les hommes de la liberté”) centers on issues related to colonialism and its effects. It also highlights important figures that have been emblematic of the struggle against discrimination. The last film in the series, Un siècle avec Jenny (2008) directed by Federico Nicotra and Laurent Champonnois, is dedicated to the life and work of the Martinican “grande dame” of theater, Jenny Alpha, who is now 98 years old.
Born in 1910, Jenny Alpha’s rich, artistic career spanned the 20th century, leaving an indelible mark in the world of theater. The film follows her from Fort-de-France to Paris, where she arrived at 19 years of age to pursue studies at University of Paris – La Sorbonne, and offers a tapestry of tales about the many places and people that marked her trajectory. Her stage career was launched by the 1939 Cabaret La Canne a Sucre [Sugar Cane]. She also founded her own band, which toured widely from 1950 to 1966. After playing roles as a prostitute or savage, her portrayal of Neige in Les Griots [The African Storytellers], a 1958 production of Genet’s Les Nègres [The Blacks], earned her recognition and entry to an emerging theater offering significant roles to black actors.
Un siècle avec Jenny shows a life guided by a passion for theater and the audience, from the cabarets of her youth, passing through music and film, before arriving to the theatrical stage where she played her greatest classical roles. It was a life full of struggle when black actors were inevitably trapped in the same roles. After battling for years to ensure a space, honor, and recognition for Caribbean women, she received the Order of Merit from Renaud Donnedieu in 2000, but she decided to continue her life on stage, ushering in the 21st century.
Another recent documentary film in her honor is Jenny Alpha, une flamme créole [Jenny Alpha, A Creole Flame, 2008] by Thierry Desroses and Gilles Oddos.
Photo of Jenny Alpha from http://www.sudplanete.net/musique.php?menu=film&no=7544