ARRAY films has released some of the most comprehensive, culturally-mindful films and documentaries about, and directed by, individuals of the African Diaspora for over a decade.
Recently, The Shadow League got a chance to discuss the new ARRAY documentary The House on Coco Road with director by Damani Baker. The film gives an intimate look into what it was like to live in Grenada prior to the United States invasion, the conditions that led to the invasion and what it was like for those on the island when United States Marines, most of which looked just like the inhabitants of the island, rained fire upon their heads in the name of democracy.
The House on Coco Road is an intimate portrait of Fannie Haughton, an activist and teacher who moves her children from Oakland, California to participate in the Grenada Revolution – only to find her family in harms way of a U.S. military invasion.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan went on television and informed the American public of an invasion that was taking place to overthrow what was described as a Marxist Communist government on the tiny island nation of Grenada. We were told that American medical students and other U.S. citizens were trapped on the island nation and that the government was committing atrocities against its own people. We were also told a battalion of Cuban soldiers were on the island.
But with the clarity of time, we now see this invasion, not from a Cold War perspective, but from a class and race perspective.
Grenada, which is virtually all Black, was led by a charismatic leader named Maurice Bishop, whose socialist revolution made him a wildly popular figure among his people. But his assassination by Marxist hardliners within the government provided the U.S. an excuse to invade the country and set up the government of its choice.
When I lived in Grenada, I saw nothing wrong with what they were trying to do, said Baker, who was nine years old when the invasion occurred. As a child, were open to people and communities that are loving and giving and want to take care of its people. Thats from your neighborhood to your church to your school to understand health care and education as a given right. Those are really basic needs that I think anybody can relate to. So, living in Grenada in the 1980’s during the period of revolution and to see children safely taking the bus, to see women in positions of power, those things seemed obvious to me as a way to live. So, without having a clear global perspective on it yet, I was in paradise. I thought thats how things were supposed to be.
The Shadow League: They say it was Marxist and Communist, despite Maurice Bishops policies being socialist. What was it like to attend a typical government rally?
Damani Baker: To give you an idea of how the government works, when you would go to a rally, it wasnt about leaders of a country speaking and being dogmatic speaking and kinda of being dogmatic and preaching to the population anytime Maurice Bishop would speak, it was a rally that was done through culture and community. Youd have the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Education updating the country on the progress of revolution, but that was all woven with poetry and music and dance and things that were already inherently a part of what it meant to be Grenadian.
TSL: From a distance it appears as if Grenada had become a pawn in the Cold War that proliferated much of the globe at the time. Most countries took a side or were forced to do so by the United States or the Soviet Union.
DB: The Cold War , what we dont talk about in the history books is that it was an exercise in materialism, a race to be in control of the world, anyone who questioned that was not respected, and not allowed to exists as was the case with Grenada, which was invaded by tens of thousands of Marines and we had to hide under a bed as our own country caved in.
TSL: What was it like returning to the United States and hearing all the negative things your birth country had to say about the home you had just left?
DB: As a nine-year-old boy returning home to a country that was talking about his former country in ways that didnt make sense. This Marxist Communist regime that was a threat to U.S. foreign policy, sovereignty and all these things. I was like Well, thats just not true. How dare the world say the country I just left was anything less than brilliant?
TSL: The term revolution invokes fear and images of violence from most of the American mainstream. Why do you think that is?
DB: I think we have to re-frame the word revolution, even the idea of revolution, as something terrible. This version of democracy in the U.S. is so proud of its revolutionary past. We celebrate it by launching bombs into the sky and watching them blow up on the Fourth of July. We do these things that are all about celebrating freedom and the emancipation of people who have felt oppressed. Its funny how that only applies to a select few. Anyone else who attempts to take their freedom into their own hands is vilified.
We talk about Cuba in the same way. Theres a revolution in Cuba and history defines it as a revolutionary concept that doesnt fit with the American mold. For that reason, they dont deserve respect or theyre not allowed to participate in the global economy. Look at Haiti. Anytime we talk about revolution as anything less than a European model its not held with the same importance and value. I learned very early that revolution is beautiful and transformative. Not only transformative, but it can be simple actions. It isnt always about a government change or a single leadership model built around one person. There are small community actions that are revolutionary acts.
TSL: What are some ways to be revolutionary that do not require risking life, limb or freedom that anyone could accomplish?
DB: My mother, as you can see in the film, has been a teacher all her life, she went to UCLA, studied teaching and childhood development her entire career, in response to the Black Panther Partys headquarters being raided by the LAPD and the Feds, realized the free breakfast program was going to fall apart. They may not have been members of the Black Panther Party, but they saw an avenue to step in in a revolutionary way to make sure that program didnt fall apart and that children were fed and went to school with full bellies and not hungry and able to learn.
That is a way you can reframe the concept of revolution. Its as easy as stepping in when you see a need. For me, thats how revolution can be framed and should be framed. Any type of way you allow these one-liners to represent an entire population of people, thats dangerous.
The House on CoCo Road is scheduled to begin streaming on Netflix on June 30. It includes commentary from Baker’s mother, Fannie Haughton, renowned activist Angela Davis and many others. The score is composed by Meshell Ndegeocello.