Biblical scripture 1 Corinthians 13:11 states, ”When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” In the new documentary, “Daddy and the Warlord,” viewers observe Clarice Gargard in the fraught act of processing and putting away ideals of her youth.
A courageous tale of confronting family secrets and marching toward integrity, “Daddy and the Warlord” airs on World Channel on Monday, February 10 at 8 pm CT as part of Black Public Media’s annual month-long AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange televised film festival.
Gargard, who spent most of her childhood in Amsterdam before going back and forth between there and Philadelphia as a teen and adult, chronicles her efforts to see her father not as the heroic figure of her childhood, but as a real person with real flaws and possibly, a significant lack of character.
She recalled first meeting Charles Taylor as a little girl: “I went to work with my father and met his boss. He was really nice and gave me cookies.” She was horrified to later learn that the nice man who smiled sweetly at her and fed her cookies was responsible for the rape, torture, and deaths of millions in Liberia, the country where her father and the rest of the family left to avoid the privations of war.
Why she wondered, would her father have anything to do with him? “[In] African families or Black families you don’t typically talk about things,” she said. “You’re left as a child with all these questions that go unanswered.”
Gargard’s father was the head of telecommunications for Liberia during its first civil war, which lasted from 1989 to 1997. As a conduit for shaping popular thought in the lead-up to the war, telecommunications are significant. It can also be manipulated to do things like preventing enemies from calling for help.
There are moments when Gargard, sitting in front of the camera, will remind the viewer of some of R. Kelly’s beleaguered acquaintances and victims who appeared in the recent documentaries about the singer’s alleged wrongdoing.
Historically, Black American women are intimately familiar with the special burden to protect the image of Black men by staying silent about their misconduct.
Recounting their discovery of his fiendish immorality, their faces contort with the anguish experienced at the time of their cruel epiphanies; not just from his actions but from their having to reconcile who he really was with who they initially believed he was.
Gargard, often shown in extreme closeup as the film’s director Shamira Raphaëla
interviews her, exhibits the same bitter reluctance to reveal to herself and to the world, the truth about her father as Kelly’s victims did.
Historically, Black American women are intimately familiar with the special burden to protect the image of Black men by staying silent about their misconduct. Gargard indicates this particular element of Black sisterhood stretches across the diaspora. “You do have the same conflicts when it comes to examining the behavior of Black men or African men,” Gargard said.
“Typically, you don’t talk about things, particularly things that might be controversial or difficult. Generally, in Black households, we’ve been taught to move on in order to survive.”
In addition to being a self-described “daddy’s girl” within her family, she perceived that her father’s name was hardly ever mentioned without awe by those in his orbit. “I noticed the stature he had and the way people talked about him — the way they responded to my last name.”
She recalled that they’d also express gratitude for those he had helped with food, education, and housing. As always, it is not a simple discussion as to whether someone is a “bad” or “good” person.
“Daddy and the Warlord” features audio from victims of Taylor’s army detailing the worst torture humans could possibly inflict on each other. Simultaneously, there is a video of the subjects, their faces diptych transformations in extreme close-up; one side displaying rich melanin and the other shaded in deep jewel-toned hues against a black backdrop. It is an extraordinary use of cinematography usually seen only in narrative film.
There was a fear, Gargard revealed, “of other people looking at it and thinking are they going to use this against me or against our community? Will they understand what I’m trying to say? Will they think, ‘Oh, you’re a sellout’ or whatever? Will they look at it like a betrayal?”
Gargard finally overcame her fears. “I know that I made it [the documentary] with a certain intention,” she said, “and that intention to me is very important so that you can be responsible for how people perceive that. I wanted to show the complications of war, as Africans and Black people often don’t get to tell their complex stories.”
“Daddy and The Warlord” airs on the World Channel Monday, February 10 at 8 pm CT as part of Black Public Media’s annual month-long AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange televised film festival.