The film is called “Aliker” and, it’s based on a true story, set in French colonial Martinique in the 1930s and tells the story of André Aliker, the editor of “Justice,” a one-page communist newspaper. Despite his colour (and, therefore, his class – although he seems to be pretty middle class if the film’s depiction is to be believed), Aliker is determined to speak out against corruption and injustice and, applying methods of investigation worthy of the modern press, soon sets about transforming the small militant sheet into a true newspaper.
Naturally, this kind of tenacious behaviour is bound to put him in the spotlight with the powers that be but, despite the fears of his nearest and dearest, he exposes scandal and corruption at the highest levels of industrial and colonial (i.e. white) Martinique society. Inevitably, his crusade for truth and justice puts his life in jeopardy and, in 1934, persons unknown kidnapped and murdered André Aliker; his body washed up on the beach with his arms tied behind him.
As I discovered, Aliker was not only the editor of the newspaper “Justice” – still published today – but was one of the founding members of the Martiniquan Communist Party (PCM) and an important figure in the collective memory of the Martiniquan people. His name appears again and again in the works of Martiniquan artists, particularly in the fiction of Patrick Chamoiseau (who wrote Deslauriers’ script). Aliker’s exposure of the corrupt relationship between the white planter and industrial elite – known on Martinique as békés – and the bureaucrats and officials who staffed the colony’s administration laid the groundwork for the reform of the colonial system in the 1930′s and the subsequent rise to power of the black working class in the 1940′s, led by the PCM and the poet-politician Aimé Césaire. Though it was never proven – because the police never investigated – it was widely suspected that Aliker was murdered by people working for the big béké, Eugene Aubéry, owner of one of the island’s largest sugar plantations and sometime depute to the French national parliament. For more on Aubéry and the political climate of 1930′s Martinique, see Richard Price’s “The Convict and the Colonel,” recently republished by Duke.
The film is directed by Guy Deslauriers, who may be more familiar to the English speaking world via his 2000 work, “Passage du milieu” (“Middle Passage”), which was written by Patrick Chamoiseau and adapted to English by Walter Mosley. “Middle Passage” aired on HBO, and starred Djimon Honsou. “Aliker” stars Stomy Bugsy in the titular role. Bugsy, whose real name is Gilles Duarte, is a French hip-hop artist/composer whose family hails from Cape Verde (a cluster of islands off the coast of West Africa).
The film was released in France in 2009, but was also translated into Spanish, Portuguese and English – but sadly, it was never formerly released outside of France. It’s not even available on DVD for English speakers, but if you’re feeling adventurous, and have a multi-region DVD player, you can pick a copy from a French retailer, although, again, it likely won’t be subtitled in English.
In the event that you never gain access to it, it’s certainly one to look out for on any release format; may eventually find its way online.
Here’s a trailer (although en francais with no subtitles) that introduced me to the film and a tragic but heroic slice of Martinique history: