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Island Rebel: Walter Rodney and Jamaica

Venue: Online

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Island Rebel: Walter Rodney and Jamaica
Two Films by Matthew Smith
The Past Is Not Our Future: Walter Rodney’s Student Years (2018)
Disturbance 1968 (2020)

We will make the two films available for 24 hours from 11 December, then invite those who register to join us for the conversation at 17:00 on 12 December.

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Password: Walter1968

Exactly four decades after his assassination at the age of 38, Walter Rodney remains a vital postcolonial figure. Seeking to collapse the distinction between action and thought, he was both a historian who wrote such foundational texts as How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) and a radical political activist intent on pursuing socioeconomic equality and multiracial democracy in his native Guyana. Extending well beyond his homeland, and relevant as it’s ever been, Rodney’s singular example continues to inspire new generations of thinkers and doers committed to global justice.

Taking two sojourns at the Jamaica campus of the University of the West Indies as their departure points, The Past Is Not Our Future: Walter Rodney’s Student Years (2017, 43’) and Disturbance 1968 (2018, 28’), written and directed by Matthew Smith, seek to illuminate key periods in Walter Rodney’s life. The first explores the three years Rodney spent in the early 1960s in Jamaica as an undergraduate, a crucial period in his intellectual and political development, before his departure for London to pursue his doctorate at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Disturbance 1968—made in collaboration with the University of the West Indies Museum at Mona, Jamaica as part of the museum's 2018 exhibition, Confrontations: UWI Student Protest and the Rodney Disturbance of 1968, which Smith co-curated—examines events from that globally significant year. In particular it looks at what happened when the Jamaican government declared Rodney—newly-returned to the country as a lecturer from Tanzania—a subversive element and persona non grata, and a student-led demonstration in support of him turned deadly.  

Comprising archival film and photographs, testimonies, and rare footage of Walter Rodney himself, The Past Is Not Our Future and Disturbance 1968 form both a compelling historical diptych and an indelible addition to the legacy of an essential Caribbean persona.

About the filmmaker
Matthew J. Smith is Professor of History and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership at University College London. Among his publications is Liberty, Fraternity, Exile: Haiti and Jamaica After Emancipation (2014) and Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict and Political Change, 1934-1957 (2009). His current research projects include a study of the representations and legacies of the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica in 1865, and a social history of Jamaican popular music since the 1950s.

This programme is presented by the Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image and Twelve30 Collective in association with the Institute of the Americas, University College London.


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