In 1983, the United States led a multi-national invasion on the Caribbean island of Grenada, some 1500 miles south of Florida. This excursion, code named “Operation Urgent Fury,” was ostensibly justified to rescue a group of medical students studying there, but as in most political undertakings, the truth was much more complicated.
Along with the students there were a number of expatriates drawn to the island by the possibilities offered by the newly established, Afro-centric (and possibly Marxist leaning) government led by Maurice Bishop, among them the family of activist/educator Fannie Haughton. Decades later, her son, filmmaker Damani Baker, has crafted an intimate documentary framed by this historical event while tracing the migration of his family in search of a better life.
Aside from the historical context, Baker’s project was boosted by the discovery of a cache of Super 8mm film in his mother’s basement. These “home movies” trace the family’s passage from the racism of their native Geismer, Louisiana (site of the titular “House on Coco Road”) westward to California, then, seeking a reprieve from the violence of the emerging drug wars in Oakland, to a brief period of tranquility in a Caribbean utopia.
Fannie Haughton initially became intrigued with Grenada while on a visit there with militant author and scholar Angela Davis, with whom she’d worked as an activist and organizer, then as a teaching assistant during Davis’ turbulent tenure as a UCLA professor. Motivated by the sense of empowerment she witnessed there, along with the need to escape the spiral of the crack epidemic, she accepted a position with Grenada’s Ministry of Education and moved her family there in 1983. Her son Damani was 9 years old.
In short order, Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was deposed and executed. Civil unrest, followed by requests from surrounding governments in the Caribbean sphere (along with the possible influence of Cuba and Russia in Grenadian affairs), prompted the United States to mount a military campaign. In the next few days, Haughton and her family literally were forced under their beds to escape the bombardment before being airlifted with the medical students.
The decision by President Ronald Reagan was alternately supported and reviled. The Iran hostage crisis four years earlier was still fresh in the memory of those who insisted that the safety of the med students was paramount. Others, within the U.S. and aboard, dried the legal and moral justification behind the decision. Both the Congressional Black Caucus and the United Nations were critical of this armed intervention.
Reagan went on record to claim that Grenada had become a Soviet-Cuban staging area “…to export terror and undermine democracy” in the Western Hemisphere.
All of these events, historical and personal, are included in Baker’s narrative, which got a boost from the participation of Danny Glover as producer, and recording artist Meshelle Ndegeocell as composer.
Mother and son are careful to sidestep the labels of political affiliation, while the film tends to extend its sympathies to a leftist-radical-socialist vibe. Its success at the recent Los Angeles Film Festival earned it the scheduling of an additional screening. Thus far, no plans are in the works for a theatrical release, as the filmmakers are trolling for other film fests in which to display their wares. Those interested in updates may access the website at http://damanibaker.com/grenada-a-dream-deferred/, orhttps://www.facebook.com/The-House-on-Coco-Road-752753918144243/.