For decades, the Derg enactment of a coup against the Selassie royal family in has been seen as beneficial in eyes of many Ethiopians. This largely stems from a lack of context and explanation from the royal family about their side of the regime change, who have remained silent about what took place. That is until Constance Marks’ Grandpa Was an Emperor, which tracks Emperor Haile Selassie’s great-granddaughter Yeshi Kassa as she attempts to record her grandpa’s history before it disappears forever.
Following Yeshi on this emotional journey reframes the historical facts and archival footage into a fully fleshed out portrait of the world’s last absolute monarch. Even though the documentary wears its bias on its sleeve, Marks doesn’t omit Yeshi’s discovery of her grandpa’s despotic tendencies and moral failings. In fact, it’s these scenes that make Grandpa Was an Emperor so riveting, as we witness a family removing their rose-colored glasses and attempting to reconcile with all aspects of their pasts. While it may be challenging to vocalize one’s history, it’s essential to ensure that future generations know about their heritage.
The Silver Lining
Bob Marley’s brief inclusion in Grandpa Was an Emperor was such a welcomed insight into the musician’s politics and the ideals of the Rasta movement as a whole. It also demonstrates how Ethiopia was looked at by so many as the ‘Wakanda’ of its time, given that it was the only African nation never to be colonized.
Grandpa Was An Emperor is a part of DOC NYC’s (Nov 10-28th) 2021 lineup. Click here to learn more about how you can purchase a ticket for this title (both for in-person and digital screenings).