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A powerful new film out of Haiti is creating Oscar buzz and bringing members of the Haitian community together, from as far away as Northeastern’s Boston campus.
Set in 2018 amid violent unrest, FREDA follows Freda, an outspoken young woman living with her mother and siblings in Port-au-Prince. Through Freda’s story, the film explores the difficulties facing the people of Haiti today, including sexual violence, gang violence, corruption, generational trauma and colorism.
Northeastern’s director of Africana Studies, Régine Jean-Charles, wiped away tears as she talked about the film.
“It’s so beautiful and so difficult,” she said. “I’m completely mesmerized by how [director Gessica Généus] managed to render so much pain and so much beauty.”
The film, which was recently screened by Northeastern’s Africana Studies Program, brought together members of the Haitian diaspora from all around Boston. They were moved by Freda’s story, and together, reflected on the difficulties facing the people of Haiti today, as well as their strength.
“The film was so beautiful, I did not want it to end,” said Cecilia Akuffo, director of communications and events at Northeastern’s office of diversity, equity and inclusion. “It was great to see that members of the Haitian diaspora came and had a place where they could have a forum to communicate with a storyteller that spoke their language, understood their culture. That was refreshing to see.”
Généus, who started her career as an actor and made her directorial debut with FREDA, discussed how the film was made, including her insistence that the entire film be shot in downtown Port-au-Prince despite the financial cost.
“It was too important,” she said.
FREDA, which is based on Généus’ own experiences, was meant to be a mirror to modern-day Haiti, and to reflect the place and the people that she knew growing up.
In that way, Généus said, she created the movie she wanted to see. In doing so, many members of the Haitian community in Boston felt seen as well.
“This film is very moving to watch, especially as the eldest daughter in a Caribbean family,” said Jaidan Inniss, a Northeastern student who is taking Jean-Charles’ course on Black Feminism.
Jean-Charles, who organized the screening, said it was important for her to bring together members of the Haitian diaspora to watch it together.
“That was always at the center of my vision,” said Jean-Charles, who partnered with Boston City Councilor At-Large Ruthzee Louijeune, the Association of Haitian Women in Boston, the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, MIT’s Women’s and Gender Studies department, and Northeastern Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies.
FREDA explores a wide array of issues facing the Haitian people today: Freda and her family hide from shootings in their home; she protests when her university teachers aren’t paid; and she acts as a support for her mother, brother, and sister, who lightens her skin to attract men.
But the film provides no solutions. Instead, “I wanted to look at the truth,” Généus said. “If we want this happy ending, then we have to create it.”
In doing so, Généus said, she honored the women she grew up with. “I really wanted to see those women that I grew up with that I’ve seen fighting my own life,” she said as she started to cry. “They might die before they ever see that country that they fought for.”
Haiti continues to face difficulties in recent years, as the country suffered an earthquake in 2021. The president was assassinated just a week before the Cannes Film Festival, where FREDA was the first Haitian film since 1993.
But the film has the potential to redirect this negative narrative surrounding Haiti.
“With the film, you gave us the gift of changing the headlines in the news about Haiti, because we were celebrating the film, all over,” Jean-Charles said.
Généus remembers journalists saying they were sorry to her at Cannes. But, she said, “We’re not sorry. We are tired of being sorry for ourselves.”
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