‘Nothing, nothing is strange, in the life of a man bound for change.’ (Leroy Calliste / Black Stalin Calypso Monarch of Trinidad and Tobago)
‘Hero’ as a film is much more than a mere biopic. Its central story-line follows the career of Trini icon: Ulric Cross, over the course of a lifetime spent in the public domain. By the telling of his extraordinary tale, are the tales told of many and sundry others: people, places and countries. There is one scene in which Cross is in close quarters with two other Trini notables… author CLR James (played by Joseph Marcell) and activist George Padmore (played by Fraser James). Just an example of the distinguished company he kept. This epic triptych of revolutionists will spend the rest of their lives in the tedious but inescapable task of dismantling the monolithic edifices of colonialism, each in his own way.
The Toronto audience, September 5, 2018, at the special preview screening of ‘Hero’ was privileged to the be first to view the real-life drama. It is the first film in over a decade from auteur Frances-Anne Solomon who has been deeply absorbed with the businesses of CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution. (Dare we say Domination?) And the CaribbeanTales Film Festival which is up and running now in its thirteenth year.
Juggling several vintages of footage… black and white and colour, both period and filmed in present time, using stop-action photographs as punctuation, giving a family-album quality… Solomon achieves a patinaed narrative, patchwork quilting vignettes that go from Belmont, Trinidad, to Britain then Ghana, Cameroon and Tanzania… the territories crisscrossed by Justice Ulric himself. From the Royal Air Force to the British Broadcasting Corporation to the newly formed nation-states of the aforementioned African countries… ‘Justice was the rod and the staff that he wielded’.
The docu-drama never once ventures into the dangerous territory of polemic, which would have been too easy. Instead, big-picture issues like racism, classism, Eurocentricity, espionage, treachery, poisoning and assassination are ventilated through the lived experience of the characters in this high-stakes drama. Starting with the ninety-five-year-old Cross, frail of body but powerful of voice, the doc slips back and forth in time as Ulric’s stream of consciousness flows from childhood in the colony to higher education in the ‘Mother-Country’, to WW2 wartime service in the RAF as Navigator. ‘Service’ along with ‘Justice’ were to be the bookends of his life and work. Legislative reform and the Rule of Law were his way in the world.
In the title role, Nickolai Salcedo channels our ‘Hero’ with gravitas and equanimity, pretty much carrying the movie on his back. The timbre of his voice-over is the beating heart of the narration, grounding the air-borne exploits of our high-flyer. Here is a widescreen movie star of whose cheekbones the camera is enamoured. Having acquitted himself admirably in a number of supporting-actor parts, Salcedo slips into the patent leather shoes of this “Hero” with ease and finesse.
Peter Williams, Jamaica-born actor and star of ‘A Winter Tale’ by Frances-Anne Solomon, plays the friend ‘still working for Her Majesty’s Government’. Valerie Buhagiar (also of ‘A Winter Tale’ fame) is the deadly MI6 operative, the CIA of the UK.
Ulric’s real-life wife (now in her nineties) is engaging and chipper on camera. The Ann Cross Hospital that she founded when in Cameroon out of her training as nurse is still functioning. Scenes of courtship, separation, marriage and domestic situations humanize other aspects of the public Ulric. The young Ann is portrayed with great sensitivity by Pippa Nixon. All the performances are powerful, the actors well invested in the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Many of them are well-known in Africa. John Welsman’s music underscores multiple moods and scenarios, and the bluesy ‘rhapsoes’ of the Freetown Collective are most heartwarming.
For African Heritage Month, February 2019, screenings at branches of the Toronto Public Library can be looked forward to for general audiences. After playing as a flagship feature in the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, on September 18, 2018,
‘Hero’ will take to the road on Festival circuits and in theatres… Africa, Europe, UK, USA. Frances-Anne has worked for both the BBC and Bravo Canada, so small-screen distribution could follow.
Hopefully this ‘Hero’ will inspire the telling of many more inspirational tales of valor from the diaspora of the Caribbean Basin and the Americas.
‘We must remember to tell the stories that we are told, that happened, that we hear from others, and how we come to think about things in the way that we
- We can then understand more about ourselves and hold on to our place in the world’.
(The character ‘Tourist Annie’, from the play ‘Red House fire! fire!’ by Trini Tony Hall).
Christopher Pinheiro from Toronto.