ACTORS Fraser James of the UK, John Dumelo of Ghana and Canadian Peter Williams are all here for the premiere of Hero: Inspired By The Life and Times of Mr Ulric Cross at tonight’s opening gala of the TT Film Festival (TTFF) at Napa, Port of Spain.
James, who stars as George Padmore, said when director Frances-Anne Solomon approached him for a role in the film, which began filming in 2014, he said what interested him was Hero was about Pan Africanism. “I heard about it but I never fully understood the guys who were involved in it that made it happen, the guys who were intrinsic in changing for example, Ghana’s history and then receiving independence, and playing someone like George Padmore, who CLR James described as the father of Pan Africanism and the African revolution, is not something I would take lightly, so I kind of immersed myself in his background.”
Padmore was a leading Pan-Africanist, journalist and author, who left Trinidad in 1924 to study medicine in the United States, but soon joined the Communist Party. He then moved to the Soviet Union, where he was active in the party, and working on African independence movements. He also worked for the party in Germany but left after the rise of Nazism in the 1930s.
In 1935, the USSR made a decisive shift in foreign policy: Britain and France, colonial powers with active occupations in Africa, were classified as “democratic-imperialists” –a lower priority than the category of “fascist-imperialist” powers, in which Japan and Germany fell. This shift fell into direct contradiction with Padmore’s prioritisation of African liberation, as Germany and Japan had no colonies in Africa. Padmore broke instantly with the Kremlin, but continued to support socialism. (wikipedia)
Padmore also lived for a time in France, before settling in London, but toward the end of his life he moved to Accra, Ghana.
James said, “When I understood who this guy was, he, in another life could have been working as a clandestine agent for a government, because he was always in the background of what was going on with Pan Africanism. His movements around the world, and wherever he went governments were watching him because his biggest aim was making Africa the United States of Africa, and certain governments didn’t want that to happen and so to understand that about this guy really impressed me so therefore, you have to do justice to that character and I hope I did just that.
“In terms of me as an actor, it was an extremely important project because most of the time you are playing fictional characters but, this time I got to play someone who existed.”
He said he was super excited about the premiere since his last shoot for the film was done in 2015. “I want to see how Frances-Anne connected the scenes we shot and married them with the archival footage.
James, who did his shooting in the UK and Ghana said the latter gave him goose bumps when doing the scene at Elmina Castle, more popularly known as “the gate of no return”, a place where slaves were shipped off to the US and the Caribbean and never to return. “You could have felt the energy in that place. I can never forget that for the rest of my life.”
For Dumelo, who portrayed PK Asante, his experience in the production was overwhelming. “For me, I was overwhelmed because it brought back a lot of memories especially of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president and exactly what he went through fighting for Pan Africanism. And even though we learnt a lot about him, we also learnt the connection between Ghana and Trinidad with regards to Mr Cross. I really learnt a lot politically from that film.
“I was happy to be part of the production. At first, I was sceptical about it, I thought it was just another film until I read the script and we started filming then I thought oh, this is something which I’ve always wanted to do as a filmmaker, especially filming back to the 50s era. I am definitely happy to do such films to tell the history of not just Ghana but other countries around the world that have a rich history to their name.”
Working with fellow actors was great for Dumelo. “Everyone had something unique and it’s nice when you have a unique group of people coming together to achieve one common goal, and this case it was telling the life of somebody great like Mr Cross. I learnt a lot from everybody and I hope people learnt something from me. It was a great experience.”
He too, is looking forward to tonight’s premiere since his part was shot only in Ghana so, he wants to see what happened in the other countries the film was shot.
About TT, Dumelo is already enjoying the weather, the people and the food. He says it is very similar to Ghana.
Hero also features TT actor Nickolai Salcedo as Ulric Cross, and also features from the UK, Pippa Nixon (Anne Cross), Jimmy Eric Kofi Abrefa (Kofi Mensah) and Jimmy Akingbola (Kwame Nkrumah), and Ghana’s Adjetey Anang (Patrice Lumumba), Prince David Osei (Mobutu Sese Seko), Eko Smith Asante (Eduardo Mondlane) and Kenneth Fiati (Ahmadou Ahidjo) and Peter Williams (Anthony “Pony” McFarlane), Jamaican-born Canadian, who said he followed Hero online on social media and was green in the face with jealousy watching James and Dumelo shooting in England and Ghana. He said, “Having been previously involved in a Frances-Anne’s production, I was exceedingly jealous watching all of this unfold but little did I know when she put it all together she decided she needed something else and she wrote a fictional part for me, scripted to bring a different dimension to the film.”