Queen Nanny: Hidden History
Film of Jamaican legend reflective of important stories told at CaribbeanTales Film Festival
What started out as a passion project for director Roy T. Anderson was picked up and selected by the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival (CTFF) to screen at its media launch this year. A diverse crowd of attendees filled Toronto’s The Royal cinema to see the Canadian premiere of Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess, which tells the story of the Jamaican warrior, legend and “queen” by the name of Nanny.
Jamaicans know of Nanny, but due to the lack of written documentation, the very-real legend of Nanny is largely brushed off as a myth — especially by those not from the island.
“I just see this work as an extension of the research that was done in the mid-80s to authenticate her (Nanny’s) existence,” says Anderson.
After being captured and forced overseas in a slave ship, Nanny rises and becomes a leader of the Jamaican Maroons, a group of former slaves who fought and won against the British army in the 18th century.
“Her story is so heroic . . . Really and truly, I think that people will be inspired by it — especially women and girls.”
“Her story is so heroic, and I just felt that this is something I started that has to go forward. Really and truly, I think that people will be inspired by it — especially women and girls,” says Anderson.
The film expands on Anderson’s first passion project, Akwantu: The Journey. Prior to that, he worked in Hollywood as a professional stuntman. A few notable films Anderson was featured in include The Dark Knight Rises, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Incredible Hulk.
Queen Nanny tackles the complexities of lost or hidden/intentionally undocumented history, racism and sexism — all adversities that are still prevalent today. Anderson says he felt that, as a Jamaican American, and furthermore a Jamaican of Maroon ancestry, the story of his people and their accomplishments should be told.
Like with many passion projects, there were challenges though. Funding being at the top of the list, according to Anderson. “As a labour of love, I felt that still, this was something that had to go forward,” he explains.
“Everyone knows about Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, and the food, but we have this rich culture that really highlights the struggle of enslaved Africans, and the power of a woman.”
Another major obstacle was getting into the Blue Mountains, which is the longest mountain range in Jamaica. The Blue Mountain peak is also the highest on the island and one of the highest in the Caribbean at 7,402 ft.
“Without the help of the Jamaican Defence Force, the army down there, a lot of that wouldn’t have been possible — especially for a lot of our aerial shots, and helping us to bring equipment and supplies up into the hills.”
Alison, Anderson’s wife, and co-producer of the film, says she hopes one of the takeaways from it will be to diversify the way both the island and women are often represented in western society.
“Everyone knows about Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, and the food, but we have this rich culture that really highlights the struggle of enslaved Africans, and the power of a woman,” she says. “[Nanny] was a warrior, and we want young girls to know that we were fighting ever since, and we’re leaders.”
CTFF founder and executive director, Frances-Anne Solomon, finds the film inspiring and very important, partially due to it being female-centric, but largely due to the misrepresentation of Black people in history and classes.
“[Nanny] took on the forces of the British army, trained the escaped Africans of her community as soldiers and led them into battle — and won,” says Solomon. “Nobody tells those stories. Generally, the stories we learn about our history are to do with the fact that we are inferior, or we don’t have much, or we are victims. But the reality is that we survived, and we fought every step of the way. That’s why that story is so important.”
Queen Nanny is reflective of the types of films featured in Solomon’s festival each year. It offers many lessons and inspiration to anyone who watches it, especially at a time when issues surrounding race relations and women’s rights continue to make headlines globally.
Dave Cronsilver, an attendee at the Toronto screening, says he found Queen Nanny fascinating, and that learning about the history of others is essential.
“I think we should all know about each other’s cultures. It’s more enriching. I didn’t know about Nanny,” he says. “ . . . There’ve been a lot of women who have done a lot of important things. A lot of women have been at the forefront.”
The CaribbeanTales International Film Festival runs in Toronto from September 7 to 21.
Photo of Gloria Simms who plays Queen Nanny courtesy of CTFF.