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Forward Ever, Backward Never: Maurice Bishop’s Dangerous Mind

Forward Ever, Backward Never: Maurice Bishop’s Dangerous Mind

Posted by Dalton Higgins on April 08, 2014

To some ahistorical, out-of-touch millennials, the Grenadian Revolution might’ve happened on the track at the 2012 London Olympic Games when Kirani James won the country’s first medal— which just happened to be gold— in the 400 metre sprints. In becoming the first non-American sprinter to cover the distance in under 44 seconds, James seamlessly raised the profile of his small nation (pop. 100,000), which is largely reliant on tourism dollars.

Just 33 years prior to his feat, Grenada similarly had its profile raised for the world to see, just in a radically different way. In 1979 when a Fidel Castro-inspired Grenadian politico Maurice Bishop and his supporters overthrew a questionable Grenadian administration headed up by then Prime Minister Eric Gairy, he did the unthinkable—Bishop challenged American imperialist and capitalist systems of operation. As a result he was gunned down on October 19, 1983, after only four years in power. Given America’s less than glorious relationship with Cuba over the years, many theories posit that it was the American Ronald Reagan-led administration that orchestrated Bishop’s assassination given the Grenadian’s predilection for Cuban socialist ideals.

For Caribbean history junkies, the 113 minute documentary Forward Ever: The Killing of a Revolution  paints as good a job as I’ve seen in unlocking some of the mystery behind the murder of one of the most charismatic leaders and martyrs the region has seen. While it befuddles the mind that the late Maurice Bishop’s name isn’t canonized in much the same way as other world leaders for his overall smarts, progressive views and chutzpah, some of the reasons for how his forward-thinking political contributions to the world were received in America are revealed early on. In Forward Ever the Bishop-led Grenada was demonized by the late American President Ronald Reagan’s administration (in a poignant archival clip, Reagan describes Grenada as an island set up “to export terror and undermine democracy”). Director Bruce Paddington paints an even handed portrait of Bishop as a compelling freedom fighting figure who is lionized in some parts of the African Diaspora, but who paid the ultimate price for daring to embrace strong socialist ideals.

As a music enthusiast, I could honestly say that in the hip hop world, Reagan is viewed as the most despised American president ever. He’s been dissed relentlessly by everybody from rappers Ice T and Boogie Down Productions, all the way to Killer Mike and Kendrick Lamar. On Killer Mike’s cerebral 2012 “Reagan” song, he raps: “I'm dropping off the grid, before they pump the lead/I leave you with four words: I’m glad Reagan dead.” Adding to what many consider to be a laundry list of evils against black communities including wiping away American inner city public school music programs under the aegis of “Reaganomics”; fuelling a war on drugs that was alleged to have disproportionally targeted African American communities; the film smartly delves into the political and cultural conditions that were happening in Reagan’s America at the time of Bishop’s execution, and immediately thereafter.

Forward Ever utilizes gripping archival film footage, photo stills and key on-the-ground reports from both Bishop supporters and opponents. One of the most compelling newer interviews in the film takes place with Callistus Bernard, the Grenadian soldier who took full responsibility for leading the attack and machine gun execution of Bishop and his close circle of comrades at Fort Rupert, which included a supposedly pregnant Jacqueline Creft (Bishop’s long time partner). The post-Revolution wounds still feel very fresh, as we hear candid interviews with many living survivors of the coup, some of whom still have bullet wounds lodged in their bodies.

When the US led invasion toppled the military government put in place after Bishop’s coup, the plot begins to unfold in other mysterious ways as the Reagan administration attempts to make the questionable claim that the invasion was necessary to protect the interests of the American medical students studying at St. George’s University in Grenada (though some rare archival interview footage of a few of the students themselves reveal them not to have been feeling threatened at all).   

Fast forward to today and by the end of the film one is left asking as many questions as they’d thought they had answered – in a good way. Grenadian officials and Bishop’s family are still trying to figure out where his remains lay 30 plus years later (were his remains burned beyond recognition to dispose of any evidence by the Americans)? Over a soundtrack of classic Calypso’s of the day courtesy of the likes of Mighty Sparrow and Brother Valentino, Bishop’s interest in developing his country’s feelings of black pride; his vigorous support of women’s rights; his mandate to develop an objective free press; and his wholesale promotion of accessible healthcare and education (archival shots of “Education is a right not a privilege” bill boards pop up in the film), reveal him to be an incredibly progressive figure in Caribbean political history, no matter what side of the political fence one sits on.

The film manages to keep one’s interest high throughout the near two hours screening time as an interesting line-up of countries and individuals who were publically against the invasion is revealed (eg. one of Reagan’s greatest allies British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was vigorously opposed to the US attack on Grenada).  The compellingly candid interviews with current political figures and business owners who still thank the United States for invading their country, blended in with great shots of aged street signage that you can still view in Grenada today that says “thank you USA for liberating us”, reveals that the Spice Island’s ongoing truth and reconciliation process for both civilians and soldiers who took part in the coup will carry on throughout the 21st century.

Forward Ever screens as part of the Reelworld Film Festival

Friday, April 11, 2014 - 1:00PM
Cineplex Odeon First Markham Place Cinemas

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