LargeUp Interview: Director Karen Marks Mafundikwa on “The Price of Memory”


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LargeUp: What was it about the fight for reparations in Jamaica that drew you to devote 10 years of your life to documenting it?

Karen Marks Mafundikwa: My hometown of Montego Bay, and Jamaica in general, has monuments and ruins left over from slavery. While growing up, I used to walk through my town square very frequently. It was a place where 500 slaves were hanged for rebelling. I learned this as a child, and passing through there used to creep me out after that. In 2002, at an official ceremony for the Queen, I met a group of Rastafari who had come to petition the Queen for reparations. The British monarchy has a long history of enrichment from slavery. I thought this was a clash of the past and present of epic proportions, and as a filmmaker, I wanted to capture what was happening. It was natural for me to explore a history I had lived with my whole life.

When I started the film in 2002, the UN convened the Durban World Conference Against Racism in South Africa, to discuss reparations. The conference was very contentious and widely covered in the press. This is the background to the start of the film, which I saw as recording the history and the movement and the people engaged in it for posterity. However, I was interested in focusing on Jamaica, since it was my own history and it was from a perspective which had not been explored in a film.

The people I began to follow in the film were very active in the reparations movement. For me, this was history unfolding before my very eyes. I had never seen anyone explore the Rastafarian pursuit of reparations and repatriation. It also led me to question what was the legacy of slavery in Britain, which had benefited from slavery.  It was important to capture it on film, because that’s the creative medium I work in, and because I felt it was a way to reach many people. I didn’t know it would have taken 11 years to complete when I started! I did other work in between, but I stuck with it because I felt a huge responsibility to finish it.

LU: How had the fight for reparations evolved from the beginning of the filming in 2002, to some ten years later when you wrapped?

KMM: When I started, the Jamaican government had recently sent a delegation to Durban World Conference in 2001 and advocates were calling on the government to have the delegation submit a report to Parliament and to “do something” about reparations. Reparations had been largely a Rasta call, from what I saw growing up. But about that time, there were intellectuals and other activists becoming publicly vocal in calling for it. Also, there was a vocal movement in the US that was in the news a lot. But in Jamaica, Rastafari were the most vocal. At that time in Jamaica when the average person heard the word reparations, people always connected it to repatriation, which is returning to Africa. This is because Rastafari have called for reparations and repatriation for decades. The Jamaica Reparations Movement, a national organization, had just formed and started to lobby government and raise public awareness.

All these actions,  led to the government debating reparations in Parliament by 2007. Finally around 2009, a National Commission on Reparations was formed to research and advise on what the government should do about the issue. Now governments across the Caribbean are organizing to pursue reparations. It is no longer perceived as something [just] Rastas talk about.