Jean McGianni Celestin writes about the largely untold history surrounding Toussaint Louverture and interviews actor Jimmy Jean-Louis on his iconic role as the famous revolutionary. See excerpts here:
Toussaint Louverture is one the most iconic figures in modern history. Born into slavery on a plantation in Saint-Domingue in 1743, he became the father of the Haitian Revolution, which catalyzed independence movements throughout Latin America — including Simón Bolivar’s Revolution in South America. And more than two centuries since he helped establish Haiti as the first black republic in the West, Louverture remains divine in the Haitian cultural and political consciousness. His intelligence as a general was unrivaled and his fortitude as a man frightened even the great Napoleon Bonaparte of France, whose armies were outmaneuvered and driven off the island by the uprising Louverture helped lead. Yet, like most black emancipators in history, Toussaint Louverture’s story has never gotten its fair shake. [. . .]
A self-titled film released by French television filmmakers in February 2012, has attempted to tell this long-awaited story. [. . .] It stars Jimmy Jean-Louis as Louverture and Senegalese-born actress, Aïssa Maïga, as his wife, Suzanne. [. . .]
How did you get cast for the title role of the film? I actually received a phone call from the producers while I was in my home in L.A and we scheduled a meeting in Martinique. That was the very first meeting. And a few months later, we met at the Cannes Film Festival, and then it was a done deal. The following year we started to shoot. [. . .]
It’s well-known that as a Haitian-born actor that you speak five languages and that you’re fluent in French as well as in Haitian Creole and English. How much more preparation did you have to put into playing such an iconic character as Toussaint Louverture? Well, because it’s the first time we were shooting a fiction about Toussaint, I knew it was very important to get the best Toussaint possible. Because that’s the one that the coming generation will identify with. Meaning, they’ll identify Toussaint with my face. So that forced me to take it a touch more seriously. I prepped for quite a bit before we started to shoot. I prepped to understand the character by speaking to people, by speaking to Haitians, reading books and watching documentaries about him, and also prepped physically. I had two months of classes of horse-riding and sword-fighting in L.A and in Paris. And I studied about what it is to be a general, what it is to be a governor and what it is to be a leader of a country. But within that preparation, I wanted to be as precise as possible during each phases of his life: being a slave and being freed. [. . .]
On a professional note, what’s next for you once you’re done running this marathon of promotional appearances for this film? I have a few gigs coming out. There’s a movie called La marque des anges, The Mark of the Angel, shot in Paris with Gérard Depardieu, coming out on June 26. I don’t know if there’s going to be any American distribution for it, but there are a few other projects I’m gonna be working on over the next few months, one being in Paris and Senegal. Another one is actually in Haiti. It’s called Ogou Le Revenant and it’s actually quite interesting. There’s another one that I’ll be doing with Haitian filmmaker, Jerry LaMothe, and that one is called The Promise Keeper. And there are some projects around that I’ll tell you more about as we get closer to completion.
NYAFF moves to Harlem’s Maysles Cinema Institute from May 2-6 and culminates at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn. For more information about film screenings, visit africanfilmny.org.
Jean McGianni Celestin is a senior writer at The Haitian Times who focuses on culture, race, sports and politics. He is the co-writer of the screenplay for an upcoming motion picture about African-American revolutionary hero, Nat Turner. Follow him on Twitter; he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.