Director Jonathan Demme is rallying Hollywood’s elite to try to protect a freedom-fighting folk musician in Haiti. With a petition signed by Harry Belafonte, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Hammer, and 64 other powerful stars, Demme hopes to save Manno Charlemagne’s life.
”Manno is the charismatic leader at the center of the Haitian democracy movement,” Demme says. But after the Sept. 30 military coup overthrew Haiti’s first elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Charlemagne was imprisoned for two weeks, beaten, and threatened with maiming and death in an effort to stop him performing his revolutionary songs. On Oct. 25, he sought sanctuary in the Argentinean embassy in Port-au-Prince and has been there ever since.
”We want him to be free to leave the country safely with his family,” says Demme, who met the singer in 1987 while filming the documentary Haiti: Dreams of Democracy. Demme credits the balladeer’s biting lyrics for setting the tone of his movie. Charlemagne, 43, recorded three independently produced LPs during the last decade and has been called the Bob Marley of Haiti.
The Haitian Embassy in Washington, D.C., still staffed by representatives of the ousted Aristide government, said they could not speak for the illegal military regime currently in power. So far, the Haitian junta has not responded to Hollywood’s plea.