Filmmaker Damani Baker has amassed a career that spans documentaries, most notably as one-half of the directing team on “Still Bill,” the 2009 feature length film on legendary soul music singer Bill Withers, as well as with museum installations and advertisements. Despite his focus on the work of others, it’s his most personal project that has taken on the greatest significance.
Reflecting on his family’s exploits in early 1980’s revolutionary Grenada, Baker has directed a compelling documentary the London Daily Mail calls, “an intimate family portrait set against the racial violence that accompanied President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs in the 1980s,” in “The House on Coco Road.”
In 1979, the Grenadian people carried out the first successful coup in the English-speaking Caribbean, installing the young, charismatic leader Maurice Bishop, as the Prime Minister. With its stances against corruption and police brutality, and with a focus on social welfare and women’s rights, all while being an independent Black nation, Bishop’s burgeoning utopia attracted people from around the world, including Damani Baker’s mother Fannie Haughton. But by being isolated from Western powers, and establishing a relationship with Cuba, Grenada started to make the United States apprehensive.
In 1982, prominent political activist Angela Davis, her family, and Baker’s mother, visited Grenada to witness the Revolution, and the next year, Haughton was offered a position in the Ministry of Education. She uprooted her children and they left their home in Oakland to move to Grenada. Baker remarked, “I’d never seen her happier.”
But with Bishop’s assassination and the U.S. invasion that followed, the dream of what Baker explains as, “a population of African descent taking control of their destinies,” was more than deferred, it was mortared – and Baker lived through it.
Baker returned with his mother to Grenada in 1999 and began shooting this documentary, searching for his mother’s untold, and unfinished story and in the process, shared the experience of living through the Bishop’s own coup and the invasion of Grenada by the United States, in a very personal, yet universal way. “Coco Road” allows us to see interviews with Bishop’s mother and sister, hear radio recordings his mother made before and during the invasion, and see images of Grenada, otherwise lost to us.
Gripping and personal, “The House on Coco Road” is Fannie Haughton’s story, but just as importantly, it is the story of other extraordinary, tireless women, who believe and practice ideals of Black excellence that need to be treasured in our society.
While you may not have known their names before, with “The House on Coco Road,” you’ll discover how they changed the world.
A Q&A with Baker moderated by actor Jamaican actor Paul Pryce (“Jessica Jones”) follows the screening.
Co-presented by the Caribbean Film Academy, BAMcinématek and the Brooklyn Cinema Collective, “The House on Coco Road,” will screen at BAM Rose Cinemas on Tuesday, April 11 at 7:30pm. The short film “Passage” by award-winning director Kareem Mortimer (“Children of God” – 2010) precedes the film.