The movie Tousaint Louverture lures one to think that it is a historical document re-enacted on the big screen, a dramatization of the events that helped to end the legal commerce of people as slaves. Instead, the movie is a non-historical fiction that has very little to do with the history of the Haitian Revolution. The producers admit that. They call their work fictitious but people may miss the fine print, causing many viewers to accept the movie as factual.
For those of us who were waiting for an accurate re-enactment of the life of Toussaint Louverture, this movie is terribly disappointing. The movie unfolds from Toussaint Louverture's prison cell in Fort-de-Joux, France where he is shown speaking to an agent of Napoleon to whom he tells his life story. The movie's inaccuracy suggests that Toussaint either lied to this agent or was oblivious of events around him. While imprisoned, he receives a letter from his wife but the movie never shows us that she too was imprisoned and tortured to the point where her nails were extracted from their nail-beds.
Actor Jimmy Jean Louis brings dignity to his role as Toussaint Louverture, however his fine acting is not enough to rescue the movie's faulty portrayal of history. The movie shows that Toussaint’s father was killed while Toussaint was on the auction block. This has no basis in fact. Toussaint was an adult when his father died, and his godfather, whom he also called father, was alive through the early days of the Revolution. One of Toussaint's sons reported that his paternal grandfather was a former general in the Dahomean army and the movie does not show that, depriving us of understanding the stature that Toussaint enjoyed among the Dahomean people living on the island. The presence of a multitude of ethnic groups from different nations of Africa and their impact on the Revolution is lost in the movie. Toussaint himself is known to have been fluent in the Ewe Language of Dahomey and used that skill to communicate with people of the Dahomean nation. All that is lost in the film.
Apart from the use of clichés like mulatto, royalist, slaves, amis des noir (friends of the blacks), the movie does not provide any context for understanding Saint Domingue, a place where France imported nearly one million Africans into a cruel plantation economy. Despite their reproducing, only 450,000 Africans and their descendants remained alive by 1791. An additional 150,000 were killed during the Revolution simply because they wanted to live free. In Saint Domingue, people's lives were cut short. Among the few who survived, their tongues, their arms, their legs were often amputated for various infractions against the French Colonial Government and its planters.
By not showing these atrocities, the movie cheated the audience from understanding the context for the war that Toussaint Louverture led. With so many of the work force dying, often faster than they could be buried, the cities of Saint Domingue were said to smell of festering corpses. Some travelers wrote that the stinch of death filled the air. Saint Domingue in the 18th century smelled like Port-au-Prince after the 2010 earthquake. At no point in the movie does anyone complain of this stinch because the producers are either sloppy, unaware of this reality, or have intentionally chosen to gloss over the truth from which they have liberated themselves by casting their work as fiction.
Instead, the movie shows Cap-Francois, which became Cap-Haitian, as a pristine and clean city. This flies in the face of what was known about the major cities of Saint Domingue. European travelers who wrote about their travel to the island complained about how filthy the large cities were and they also reported on how clean the countryside was. Over the years, this situation has remained. The major cities are poorly kept while the people of the countryside continue to sweep their villages clean.
Cap-Francois is shown with a vibrant market where the supervisors of the plantations in the region could go buy and sell produce from their personal gardens and from the gardens of the people whose work they supervised. Enslaved people could care for their own gardens, after their 20-hour work-day. To attend this market, the supervisors, called commanders, needed a pass. The movie did not catch this restriction on the movement of the people in the market. Even worse, the movie failed to show that it was these same supervisors entrusted with passes who used their greater mobility to meet and to plan the Haitian Revolution. These series of meetings have come to be known as Bwa Kayiman.
The movie shows no planning of the Revolution. Instead, it naively substitutes a religious gathering held by some of the supervisors for the military war plan. But even this gathering is depicted poorly as the movie fails to show the occasion as a solemn assembly of dignified revolutionary leaders about to embark on a perilous mission. The movie mistakenly calls Bwa Kayiman a Vodou gathering even though at the time, Vodou was not yet used as a name to describe the collective African beliefs of the population. During the time of the Revolution, Traditional African beliefs were called Makanda, Kaplata, Grigri, Kalinda, Lenba, among other appellations. Simply put, people from the various African nations practiced their own ethnic religion. The movie's inaccurate depiction of Bwa Kayiman belies the testimonies of prisoners who attended these meetings.
Failing to show how the Revolution was planned, the movie is unable to show logically how the war unfolded. It shows African soldiers standing up and shooting against French forces when in fact African military tactics required that these soldiers lay flat on the ground when shooting. The poisonous arrows used by the Africans fighting the Revolution were not shown. The traps laid to overpower the much better armed French forces were also not shown. As reported by Jean Francois, one initial leader of the Revolution, most of the fighters were born in Africa and were recent arrivals to the island. Most were not proficient in French nor in Creole. At no time does the movie show these fighters to be speaking their native languages.
Worst still, the movie makes a mockery of Biassou, a man who rose to prominence because of his leadership and military skills. Biassou’s reported excesses overshadow his character and dignity as a national hero. He is portrayed as a drunken buffoon, yet the Spanish knew differently. When at one point it seemed that the Revolutionary war would be lost, Biassou and his men acceptedsafe passage from the Spanish to St Augustine, Florida where Biassou became the commanding General of Fort Moses. Biassouis the first black general to command an army on a territory that would eventually become part of the US. In total disrespect for Biassou, the movie shows him being murdered as fodder by one of his lieutenants who puts a bullet in his head. This bullet really landed in the body of the movie and destroyed any possible association one might think that this farce has with reality.
For those who enjoy fiction divorced from reality, this movie may satisfy their need. However, for those of us who were impatiently waiting for a movie to depict the events that led to the Haitian Revolution and the lives of the heroes who led it, we will have to wait a little longer.
"For those of us who were waiting for an accurate re-enactment of the life of Toussaint Louverture, this movie is terribly disappointing."