In 1974, Ethiopian Emperor Hailee Selassie was overthrown by the Derg, a military group that was active in the 1970s and ’80s. Selassie’s family was immediately ripped apart and displaced all over the world. Grandpa was an Emperor tells the story of the emperor’s great-granddaughter, Yeshi Kassa, as she journeys to find out what happened to her family when the Ethiopian Empire was ousted. Will Kassa find the answers she is looking for, or will her family’s history after the fall remain a mystery?
The thing about documentaries is that they are often hit or miss. Viewers are not likely going to get tons of action or a fast pace. But, they can get a different perspective or gain knowledge. Director Constance Marks’ film is unique in that it combines historical atrocities and family ties to create something both factual and emotional. It is riveting.
Everyone likely knows that coup d’etats still happen, but depending on where they live, they will feel far removed from such scenarios. Furthermore, the 1970s was not that long ago, and to see something of this magnitude occurring is breathtaking and, honestly, something that is not taught enough in schools. Grandpa was an Emperor, in great detail, explores the events of Selassie’s last days in power and the aftermath of the coup. Viewers immediately feel for the individuals in the documentary, but the added dimension of Kassa desperately trying to find her missing family adds another level of sentiment and emotion.
“… the emperor’s great-granddaughter, Yeshi Kassa…journeys to find out what happened to her family…”
One of the challenges that documentaries face is finding an acceptable combination of historical footage and both biased and unbiased testimonials capable of immersing viewers in the content. Unlike fictional movies where one aspect can shine and viewers find some semblance of entertainment, documentaries need all its elements to marry nicely in order to find success. Marks finds a way to meld everything together and develop a story that allows viewers to become invested. One of the most interesting parts of the film, something that provides a significant spark, is the inclusion of Bob Marley and his connection to Kassa’s family. There are interesting connections and aspects such as this strewn throughout the narrative. This allows viewers to find new things to latch onto as they are guided through the sprawling history and intimate personal family developments.
Grandpa was an Emperor is expectedly educational, as it provides those watching with a plethora of important and historically accurate information. It is also motivating. Constance Marks implores viewers to do better and be better. As audience members are presented with more and more information, they begin to understand that, while these events may seem out of the realm of possibility, what happened to Kassa’s family could still happen now, today. The movie allows its viewers to truly begin to understand that being better to one another is the key to avoiding further conflicts like the ones mentioned. The feature is informative, innovative, and encouraging, as the production checks all the necessary boxes to make a successful documentary.
"…implores viewers to do better and be better."