house_on_coco_road_1Year: 2016
Director(s): Damani Baker
Writer(s): Damani Baker
Region of Origin: US
Rating: Unrated
Color, B&W, 78 mins

Synopsis: A man pays tribute to his mother and reflects on the social turmoil of his childhood, set amidst the Grenada Revolution.

Crafted passionately by filmmaker Damani Baker, The House On Coco Road is a stunning mixture of intimate family portrait, timely social critique and a tribute to the many women who fight for freedom, equality and justice on a daily basis. Baker’s subject matter is dense yet personal, looking backwards and forwards with sobering implications and hope despite rampant social turmoil and personal struggle. It’s a reminder that while America is a melting pot of ideas and possibilities, there is still a deep ugliness that threatens to rise up at any turn. Nevertheless, Baker isn’t coming from a place of anger, but from the perspective of someone looking for honest answers, above all, evoking the idea that peace is something worth holding out for. The result is an experience that is painfully genuine, artfully introspective and undeniably moving from start to finish.

The central focus of the film is on Baker’s mother, Fannie Haughton. A teacher and activist, we learn about the incredible life Fannie’s led, and how her inspiration has been a beacon to her son and anyone she’s helped throughout the years. Tracing his ancestral roots from Geismar Louisiana to Oakland, California, Baker paints the portrait of a woman who’s devoted her life to bettering the lives of those around her, at times being torn between taking care of her children or speaking out on the racial tensions and Reagan-era prejudice that poisoned the very idea of what America should’ve stood for. Things eventually dovetail into the Grenada Revolution of the early 80s, where Fannie would relocate her family to the Caribbean island to find a utopia, replete with likeminded communities, low-income housing and more basic amenities. Stateside, Reagan would declare the island a threat, marring Fannie and her family’s peace with a military invasion built around disinformation and fear. The film is a sobering illustration of how prejudice and hate can follow families down the family tree, but also of how strength, courage and grace can be inherited as well.

house_on_coco_road_3Most remarkable about the film is how Baker personalizes the political and social turmoil surrounding Black liberation in the early 80s – behind the political propaganda and destabilization were people with dreams, aspirations and a desire to belong, who just wanted their fair shot at education, life and love. It’s fascinating to see how the film deftly represents its historical events from opposing angles – their reputation in the media and the insider’s perspective of a kid and his mother who lived it. Weaving fact and revolution with personal memoir, the film is presented through archival footage, one-on-one interviews, audio recordings, newspaper clippings, letters and personal home videos, helping us to experience such incendiary times through a more personal, candid lens. Important characters from the African American community who crossed paths with Fannie, such as Angela and Fania Davis, make appearances, recanting the politically charged time period with clarity and a fresh outlook.

Ultimately, the film draws parallels between the troubles of the past and how many of them still go on today. Still, the film ends on a hopeful note, with one commenter noting that we’re in the midst of another migration as public consciousness and acceptance reach a new level. Part time capsule and part call to action, the film leaves us with the promise that the future is coming, and that though it’s a very uncertain one, there’s a bravery in accepting it with hope and open arms.