When I got an invite to attend the 2019 Joburg Film Festival, there was little to infer in terms of what to expect. Granted, this wasn’t my first time attending a film festival, but it was a new experience doing so in the Southern part of Africa.
With plenty of films on offer, one particular film titled ‘Hero’ caught my attention. I got a whiff of its synopsis via email, and got to watch a snippet from the trailer. I was immediately beguiled and was looking forward to watching the film, which had been touted a success in many parts of the world.
Hero, a film about an extraordinary Pan-African hero kicked off its six-day celebration of 60 films from across the globe and Johannesburg among the selected cities.
Hero poignantly crafts the story inspired by the remarkable life and times of Trinidadian war hero, judge and diplomat Ulric Cross. He was recognised as the most decorated West Indian Pilot of WWII and had a remarkable influence in the fight for liberation across Africa. The film spans the dynamic and transformative times in which he lived. It is the untold story of those Caribbean men and women who helped to liberate Africa from Colonialism. “The film resonates with audiences around the world. From his career in the Royal Air Force, to his time as a lawyer and judge working behind the scenes in the independence movements of Ghana, Cameroon and Tanzania, Ulric’s life blazed a trail that inspires us all,” says the director.
As an award-winning writer, director and producer herself Solomon is thrilled that Hero has received such significant recognition. “I am grateful by this endorsement by the AMAA jury which recognises Hero’s significance in the canon of African Diasporic film and its importance for audiences around the world by the endorsement from the AMAA jury as it recognises Hero in the context of the reactions of audiences which have been heartfelt,” she says.
Filmed across the UK, Trinidad, Ghana and Canada, Hero features an international cast of celebrated black actors including Trinidad and Tobago’s Nickolai Salcedo, in the lead role of Ulric Cross, alongside UK stars Joseph Marcell (Fresh Prince of Bel Air), Fraser James (Resident Evil), Pippa Nixon (John Carter), Canada’s Peter Williams (Stargate SG1), and Ghanaian superstars John Dumelo, Adjetey Anang and Prince David Oseia. “It was an honor to play the role of Ulric Cross, who was a giant. It was a transformative experience for me as it opened my eyes to the global role that people like Ulric and others played on the world stage,” says the leading man about his character.
“Ultimately, the story is about us. About who we are as African people, and as citizens of the world,” says Solomon so succinctly of the film.
Ulric’s interaction with Mwl. Julius Nyerere during the liberation struggle is something that has remained unknown to many Tanzanians. His influence and the role he played in helping the late Nyerere craft a way to independence shouldn’t go unappreciated.
At the JFF, Hero was met with equally high-praise from the audience, most of whom lauded the storyline and the lead actor’s portrayal of Ulric Cross. The icing on the cake after watching what is arguably one of the best films of the year was the fact that Ulric Cross’ real son, Richard Finch, and the man who portrayed Ulric’s character, Nickolai Salcedo, were present during the showing of the film.
The audience got a chance to ask Dr Finch and Mr Salcedo a few questions about the film and their experience through the entire project.
Finch, who was born in London towards the end of WWII to a white mother and black father and named Ulric – after his father, was adopted by a Yorkshire mum and a Cockney dad and renamed Richard Finch. In 1986 - Dr Finch, who had just turned 40 managed to meet his biological father, Ulric Cross who was then 70.
The two stayed in touch up until the death of Ulric Cross in 2013 at the age of 96.