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24 September 2014

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Antony (left) in chains for the filming

Lights, camera, action

Charlestown, near St Austell was the setting for a new film tracing the slave trade of the past. BBC Radio Cornwall's Antony Makokha was an extra in the production. Read about his experiences and see his 'on location' photo gallery.

Archive Feature

I made my way down to Charlestown harbour in the evening of Saturday 17 September 2005.

I had passed an audition as an extra the previous weekend and I was looking forward to making my on-screen debut.

The extras had all been booked into the Dolphin Duporth Holiday Inn - about a mile from the harbour. That night as I lay in bed,  there was a feeling of anticipation. I was really eager and highly curious about taking on a different personality and being transported back in time. I think I dreamt of being shackled and marched through a jungle. Little did I know...

Charlestown at sunrise

I was up bright and early on Sunday. The pick up time was 5.15am. I was sleep walking as I gulped down two mugs of coffee and desperately rummaged for a lost sock.

As the caffeine started to take effect, I walked out of my double room chalet and forced my protesting brain to think about this whole filming affair, so that I could understand what was expected of me.

The Film Company is called Indigo Films and they are based in San Francisco in the US. The name of the film, or the working title for that matter, was something like USS Constellation: African Squadron/Slave Patrol.

The storyline begins when an African village is raided. Some of the locals are captured and marched to a coastal fort. They are sold to slave traders and then rescued by the Navy branch, the African Squadron, on the high seas.

I was to play the role of an African villager. In the storyline I get captured, but do I die? Who were the others?

Antony was dressed up as a slave for the filming

There was a lot of waiting around. I didn't get attended to by the make-up and dressing artists until 7.30am. I didn't mind watching the sunrise though. It was really pretty. We were sitting in one of the pubs at Charlestown harbour.

The conversation was light because the ice hadn't been broken as it were. I could tell that this was going to be an interesting group to work with. They were really friendly people. Most of them were professional actors or had done some 'extra's' work previously. Some of the others were studying theatre and drama in college.

A few were like me; fresh and green on the set, and that was a comforting thought. In total we were about ten extras but that was going to increase over the four days of filming.

Most of the action took place on Charlestown beach and on the ship. Apparently the chasing scenes of the ships like the rogue slave ship being chased by the USS Constallation had been shot on the previous two days without us (the slave extras).

On the Monday we filmed some of the later scenes of the film. Filming is never done in order of events on the script - just in some random order!

I was one of the subdued and terrified slaves who was brutally shoved on to a small rowing boat and rowed out to the waiting slave ship about a mile out to sea.

It wasn't really easy to act this out because I hadn't yet got the feel of it but I gave it my best shot. On the ship we were manhandled and shackled then pushed below deck (we really didn't go below deck it was just an illusion).

Make up is applied for Antony's punishment scene

Some of the main slaves then acted out some raw scenes. These included being pushed into the sea and being brutalised and battered as they resisted being shackled.The gist of the atrocities began to sink in.

Day two was at the slave fort in the film. I wasn't in this scene so I watched as slaves were dragged out and threatened with guns. In the film they were kicked around in the dirt as they were being readied for loading onto the slave ship. Even though this was all being staged for the film, my emotions began to take over. I felt rage and pity. Questions mingled into one in my reeling head. Little did I know it would get worse.

Later in the afternoon the setting was a market place. Actors playing slave buyers were around. I was in this scene. The slaves were marched into the market place. A forked branch was attached to my neck, another forked branch was around the back of the neck of one of the main slave character's standing in front of me.

The two branches were tied together in the middle. The forked parts around our necks  were secured with metallic pins. Our hands were tied behind us, our feet shackled. I seethed inside, I am full of contempt for these perpetrators of the past and their beastly acts. If only I could lay my hands on one of them now...

In the film some of the slaves get branded with hot iron. The make up artists do a good job. It looks so real. Then the slaves have their height measured, their teeth checked and their weight noted down by the slave buyers.We are being displayed along side fruits and vegetables.We are not humans, just a commodity.

Antony during the filming of his whipping scene

"Silence please," says the director. "Cameras rolling, action!"  It's another horrible scene but this time my character is the centre of it. I am being whipped on deck as a punishment for misconduct. I have to holler and scream like a wounded animal.

I am very convincing, they only film two takes. A number of the crew are in tears. I get a few pats on the back and some hugs. This is what my race went through so many years ago. How could the world let this happen? Where was God at the time?...Too many questions. I won't even talk about the knocking out of  the front teeth of the slaves for the purpose of force feeding those who tried to starve themselves to death.

Or the horrible cages with people throwing up and urinating on themselves and each other. No, I can't talk about it. You will just have to wait for the DVD or watch it on the History Channel in about ten months.

This film has changed many old perceptions I have had. It has changed my life. I am sure it will shock you, and make you think. Trust me if you have a heart, you may never be the same...

last updated: 22/02/07
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