Sergei Eisenstein and the Haitian Revolution: 'The confrontation between black and white explodes into red'

Charles Forsdick, Christian Hogsbjerg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

While the American and French Revolutions have regularly been commemorated in film, this article argues that their Haitian equivalent – despite its own world-historic significance and global cultural impact – still awaits serious cinematic representation. However, the idea of making just such a film stirred the imagination of the one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, the Soviet film-director Sergei Eisenstein (1898–1948). Eisenstein’s project – developed both in the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union, and involving sustained collaboration with Paul Robeson – would have constituted an important addition to the extensive catalogue of cultural representations of the Haitian Revolution, but the film remained unrealized. The fate of Eisenstein’s lost Haitian Revolution project, ‘one of the great unmade movies of the twentieth century’, is examined, and the film is situated in the wider dramatic context of the 1930s, when the transnational collective memory of the Revolution came to have a profound new meaning in the context of shifting Soviet power struggles as well as that of Western imperialist interventions in Ethiopia and Haiti itself. This article offers the first comprehensive account of the genesis and evolution of Eisenstein’s planned film, and explores in depth the director’s investment in this project in order to assess its significance in cultural, historical and political terms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157–185
JournalHistory Workshop Journal
Volume78
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sep 2014

Bibliographical note

© The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of History Workshop Journal. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact journals.permissions@oup.com

Keywords

  • Sergei Eisenstein
  • Haiti
  • Haitian Revolution
  • Paul Robeson
  • Film History
  • Soviet Union
  • Russian Revolution
  • Toussaint Louverture
  • Hollywood

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