Kino Eye: Eisenstein's unmade films about Haiti

Submitted by AWL on 19 October, 2021 - 4:01 Author: John Cunningham

A first for Kino Eye — films you can’t see because they were never made! The Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein had always been fascinated with the slaves’ revolt on Haiti. It was one of his lifetime ambitions to make a film about this subject but, unfortunately, none ever materialised.

The nearest he came was on an extended trip to the USA and Mexico in 1930. Arriving in Hollywood in May he read Black Majesty: The life of Christophe, King of Haiti, written by John W. Vandercook. Eisenstein wanted the black singer and actor Paul Robeson to play the leading role. However, Paramount Studios, who had the rights on any Eisenstein film proposals, rejected Black Majesty outright.

On returning to Moscow, Eisenstein discovered that Anatoli Vinogradov had written a novel about Toussaint L’Ouverture, The Black Consul, and another film adaptation was proposed. Eisenstein met Robeson in 1934 and discussed the project, for which Robeson was enthusiastic.

It was not to be. The cultural climate in the Soviet Union was restricted by so-called “socialist realism” and Eisenstein can claim the distinction of having a film banned by Hollywood and one by Stalin. More on films about the Haiti revolt in next week’s Kino Eye.

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