Past Film/Video | Classics

West Indies

(Med Hondo, 1979)

Two Black people hold up an effigy that is on fire, a photo of a Black man is attached to the face of the effigy.

An epic, sardonic take on the American musical, West Indies premiered with a then record-setting budget for an African film. 

Adapted from Daniel Boukman’s play Les negriers, West Indies explores histories of colonialism, from sugar cane and slavery to the fruitless attempts of contemporary Caribbean immigrants to find a future in France. Hondo’s relentless dedication to his artistic vision led to the construction of a massive wooden slave ship in an abandoned Parisian Citroën factory—with the single location showcasing the director’s deft skill with framing, staging, and montage. West Indies shocked audiences and critics alike, but in recent years it has reclaimed its rightful place in the cinematic canon. In French with English subtitles. (113 mins., DCP)

See the complete lineup of Three Films by Med Hondo.

West Indies, courtesy of Harvard Film Archive.

"An exhilarating big-budget tribute to American musicals and a scathing indictment of colonialism."
Philip Concannon, BFI

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About the filmmaker

Med Hondo chevron-down chevron-up

Med Hondo was born in the Atar region of Mauritania in 1936 and emigrated to France in 1959, taking on an assortment of jobs to fund his drama studies. As an actor he appeared in several notable films, including Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Féminin (1966), but was most recognizable to French audiences as the French voiceover of Black actors in numerous dubbed American films. In 1970 his directorial debut, Soleil Ô, premiered at Cannes Critics’ Week. Throughout his decades-long career, Hondo exposed the difficulties faced by African migrants, celebrated leaders and revolutionaries of the African diaspora, and remained committed to the emancipation of oppressed peoples everywhere. All of Hondo’s films challenge the status quo, and the director remained an outspoken supporter of Black cinema throughout his life. 

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Sarah Maldoror: Tricontinental Cinema. 

Digitally restored by the Harvard Film Archive and Ciné-Archives using the original 35mm picture negative and magnetic track. Financial support provided by the McMillan Stewart Foundation.

National Endowment for the Arts 
Ohio Humanities

Rohauer Collection Foundation

Ohio Department of Development

Greater Columbus Arts Council

The Wexner Family 
Institute of Museum and Library Services

Ohio Arts Council, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts 
Ohio State’s Global Arts + Humanities Discovery Theme 
The Columbus Foundation 
Nationwide Foundation 
Vorys, Sater, Seymour, and Pease

Mike and Paige Crane 
Axium Packaging 
Nancy Kramer 
Ohio State Energy Partners 
Ohio History Fund/Ohio History Connection 
Larry and Donna James 
David Crane and Elizabeth Dang 
Bruce and Joy Soll 
Rebecca Perry Damsen and Ben Towle 
Jones Day 
Alex and Renée Shumate


Past Film/Video

West Indies