A tribute to strong female role models is at the heart of Damani Baker's The House on Coco Road. In this very autobiographical documentary feature Baker tells his family story with his mother Fannie Haughton being the central figure of the piece. The narrative has roots stemming back to Louisiana, through to Los Angeles and on to Oakland with a brief stop in Grenada splitting the Oakland segment. The incredible strength of the females in the director's life is evident throughout along with the uncanny habit of Ronald Reagan poking his nose into the family tale.
The story starts out with the seeming on the surface the most bizarre part of the tale. Why would a mother without telling the father of her two kids, up and move the family to Grenada in 1983 seemingly on a whim. As Damani Baker tells it, in order to understand that action you have to first go backward. From there the film heads back to Geismar, Louisiana to the parcel of land that the family got to control through sharecropping and the grand lady of the family Coco whom Coco road is based. Next during The Great Migration his mother moved as a child to South Central L.A. where she excelled in school eventually ending up at U.C.L.A. in the late 60's at the start of the Black Panther movement. Fannie became the teaching assistant to legendary activist Angela Davis starting a lifelong friendship. Here we have the first Reagan interference as governor of California who blocked Davis from teaching at U.C.L.A. due to her radical views forcing Fannie out of a job. Later as President Reagan's War on Drugs saw a mountain of drugs flow into the black neighbourhoods of Oakland changing the community forever leading a fearful mom to move her children to Grenada a Utopia in the Caribbean introduced to Fannie by Angela and a spot where she would not have to worry if her kids decided to take a bus on her own.
As riveting as the story is detailing Fannie's involvement with the student movement at UCLA including the shooting of the two Black Panther members at a location she had been at that same day. The palace intrigue for the year the family spent in Grenada are the key elements of the film. Maurice Bishop rose to power in 1979 a socialist platform. He had a large number of women in his cabinet along with supporting, equal rights, free health care and education for all. Ideas that are still a struggle for many Western Nations today. Baker comments that under Grenada's New Jewel Movement black people in positions of power for the first time in his life. Baker's mother had a position from the Ministry of Education while he and his sister played freely on the front gardens with the children of the Prime Minister and other senior ministers.
Reagan appears again as the island nation attempted to build an airport for more international travel. The U.S. sees the socialist nation as a communist threat and the airport as a military staging ground for the Communist to launch attacks on America. An opportunity soon appeared to invade under the cover of saving the 800 US medical students from danger and restore democracy to the island.
The story is foreboding for events today as Donald Trump is an easy stand in for Reagan. American misdirection has moved from the Caribbean and Central America to the Middle East. While the issues of healthcare, female participation in government at the highest levels and protests are at the most critical point since the 60's. Damani Baker has presented a very personal story filled with a mix of family video, audio tapes , archival footage and letters to recreate more than 50 years of history that I can highly recommend.
**** Out of 4
The House on Coco Road | Damani Baker | U.S.A. | 2016 | 79 Minutes.
Tags: Documentary, Grenada, Black Panthers, Angela Davis, U.C.L.A, Student activism, Maurice Bishop, Peoples Revolution, New Jewel Movement Ronald Reagan.