Amazing Grace: Corresponding with the distributors

Not wishing to wait for Galleria Cinemas to get back to us, the National Commission on Cultural Development (of which I'm the Deputy Chair) contacted the distributors for the film Amazing Grace to see what the story is on the release of the film to the Caribbean.Now. Let me make my position clear here, lest people get sidetracked by the politics of the whole thing. I tend to agree with Frances-Anne about the reasons behind the abolition of the slave trade and of slavery itself, although I would go further and say that I believe that the abolitionist movement sprang from a genuine crisis of conscience. The fact that this gained political mileage when it did had plenty to do with power-struggles and economics, and the fact that the industrialists and factory owners who were gaining economic strength in Britain wanted to break the backs of their powerful predecessors, the land-owning aristocracy and the planters overseas. I don't, however, discount the question of conscience.The problem is that conscience is often compromised by prejudices and bigotry, which are often so unconscious that they are invisible to those who practise them. The release of the film Amazing Grace provides a fascinating study in the juncture of bigotry and conscience -- if indeed there are no plans to release it in the Caribbean.This is one fact I'm still investigating.So here is the email sent by me on behalf of the Cultural Commission to the distributors:

Sent: Thursday, March 22, 2007 3:04 PMSubject: Amazing Grace - Limited Release?I am writing from Nassau, Bahamas, to inquire about the release of the film Amazing Grace in The Bahamas.I currently serve as the Deputy Chair of the National Commission on Cultural Development, a government-appointed group whose purpose is to monitor and oversee cultural activity and development for The Commonwealth of The Bahamas. One of our main foci in 2007 is the Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Countries throughout the former British West Indies are observing this Bicentenary, which has fundamental significance for our populations and for our nations.As part of our commemorative activities, we wish to urge all Bahamians to view the film. However, it is not currently screening here. Inquiries of the Galleria Cinemas, the only distributor of mainstream movies in the nation, revealed that the film is in limited release and is not available to The Bahamas for showing.Given that the Abolition Act championed by William Wilberforce and his Abolitionists directly affected the British West Indian colonies, of which The Bahamas is one, we find the unavailability of this film, which provides an account of his struggle, beyond our comprehension.The National Commission on Cultural Development for The Government of The Bahamas wishes to invite a response from the distributors of the film regarding the screening of Amazing Grace in The Bahamas, and would be grateful for any light you might shed on this matter.Sincerely,Nicolette BethelDeputy Chair, National Commission on Cultural DevelopmentNassau, Bahamas

I received the following response from Roadside Attractions, one of the distributors (there are two - Samuel Goldwyn's the other):

Unfortunately, we don't hold the international rights to the film. Any inquiries about the Bahamas should go to the film's producers Bristol Bay Productions. They can be reached here:

Amazing Grace Update

I just got off the telephone from Galleria Cinemas.

Several inquiries were received by the Cinemas about the movie Amazing Grace.  Accordingly, I was told the following:

  • Although the film is showing in the USA at the moment, and will open in the UK and Ireland tomorrow (March 23, 2007), it is in limited release. Galleria's distributors will let the cinemas know when it is available to be shown in The Bahamas.
  • I expressed the concern -- shared, clearly, by the National Cultural Commission -- that the anniversary of the signing of the Act is on Sunday, and that the only film currently available about the event is not showing in The Bahamas, a country fundamentally affected by the Act.

If the film is not intended to be released in the Caribbean at the time of the Bicentenary of the Abolition, then that is a significant lapse of judgement of the filmmakers and the studio. There is really very little to be gained, either for history or for Christianity itself, to show the film in the homes of the people who perpetrated the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and not to do so in the homes of the societies that were created by that very trade.

Something is askew.

edit: It seems as though the film was indeed initially in limited release. Since then, however, the distributors have increased its availability. Whether that availability extends beyond the USA or the North American continent remains to be seen; I am emailing the distributors to find out for myself.

Still More - Amazing Grace

Letter sent by National Commission on Cultural Development to Galleria Cinemas re: Amazing Grace:

ManagerGalleria CinemasNassau BahamasDear [Sir]:

Re: Commemoration of the Bicentenary of the Abolitionof the Trans-Atlantic Slave Tradeandthe Film Amazing GraceAs you are no doubt aware, 2007 marks the Bicentenary of the Abolition by the British Parliament of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.In 1807, following a decades-long struggle in Britain on the part of the Abolitionists, led principally by William Wilberforce, the British Parliament agreed to outlaw the capture and enslavement of Africans and their transportation across the Atlantic to the colonies of the Americas. The Act in question was signed on 25th March, 1807.It was with some interest and excitement that the members of the National Commission on Cultural Development noted that a film had been made, inspired by the life and work of William Wilberforce and the activities of the Abolitionist Movement in Britain at the turn of the Nineteenth Century. Even more than that, Amazing Grace examines the role of the Protestant and Evangelical churches in this movement. Given the strong Christian sensibilities that prevail among Bahamians, the Commission looks forward to promoting the film as an official activity of the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.Amazing Grace opened in the USA on February 23, 2007. It is set to open in the UK on March 23, 2007. The official date set by the United Nations for the observance of the Abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is March 25, 2007. However, to date, Amazing Grace is nowhere to be found in The Bahamas. We wish to inquire when your cinemas plan to bring the film to The Commonwealth, and invite you to join with us in commemorating this awesome milestone in the struggle of our ancestors towards Emancipation.We look forward to your response.Sincerely, etcTHE NATIONAL CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION

Amazing Grace

On February 23, 2007, the film Amazing Grace opened worldwide in the USA.For people who don't know (and I'm assuming that there must be many of them here in The Bahamas, for reasons I'll tell you later), this film is, among other things, a look at William Wilberforce's abolitionist movement, the one that focussed Britons' eyes on the inhumanity of slavery, and which led the British Parliament first to abolish the transatlantic slave trade (whose bicentenary we celebrate this year) and, ultimately, to abolish slavery in the British Empire (1834), and to free the slaves (1834-1838).I have to say all this because nowhere is the film showing in The Bahamas.Now I have no idea why this is. One good reason, of course, is that commercial films in The Bahamas are controlled by a single conglomerate: Galleria Cinemas, which owns four commercial theatres in Nassau and Freeport, and which usually decides what the Bahamian public sees or doesn't see. So it is entirely possible that Galleria, looking at the costumes in the movie, thinking about the "dryness" of the subject, decided to pass on the film.This is something they do fairly regularly. As with many purveyors of mass entertainment in The Bahamas, the assumption is made that we are an undifferentiated mass of ignorami, and that no one will spend money on shows or performances that engages thought or reflection. (This attitude is as true of people producing live entertainment as it is of people importing films.) And so many films that I would like to see pass us by. It's one of the reasons that I don't go to the cinema; it's one of the reasons that our DVD collection is so vast. And it's one of the dangers -- a main and looming danger -- of having a monopoly governing commercial film distribution in the country. At least when RND Cinemas were still in operation, you had two sets of people making decisions, and sometimes those decisions would be different. Competition, what.There is, however, another, more sinister possibility. And it's this.The Bahamas Films and Plays Control Board viewed Amazing Grace and decided that it was not something that Bahamians ought to see.Now I don't have time to go into the implications of this. They are, I can assure you, rich with irony and fundamentally alarming. I'll come back to this blog to do this. But I'll leave you with these thoughts.

  • Ours is a nation made primarily up of the descendants of slave-owners and their slaves.
  • Ours is a nation whose political history is grounded uniquely and solely in the British Empire (yes, our social history is American. For the purposes of this discussion, that's irrelevant).
  • Ours is a nation that never tires of referring to itself as "Christian" (even though some of us, who respect and worship the Almighty in relative quiet, would like to take one step back to avoid the lightning bolt when it falls upon us for gross hypocrisy and overweening hate).
  • Amazing Grace is a movie about how the British Empire moved towards the abolition of the institution of slavery and the emacipation of the slaves.
  • The movers and shakers behind the Abolition crusade were Christians, and it was Christian principles that they used to argue their case and it was in the name of Christ that the battle was won.

Draw your own conclusions.