The Ballad Of Olive Morris will follow events based on an incident that happened in 1969, where 17 year old Olive Morris bravely stepped in at great personal risk to herself, to try and prevent a Nigerian diplomat named Clement Gomwalk from being arrested and assaulted under false pretenses by police officers in Brixton.
While this incident barely scratches the surface of Olive's incredible life and accomplishments, it serves as an introduction as to the core values that made her such a remarkable person and leader and also is arguably an "origin story", in the sense that this incident could be considered a strong inciting point that galvanized her activism for the rest of her life.
The Ballad Of Olive Morris is an examination of a specific moment in time in the life of a significantly important British cultural figure, who is perhaps unfairly obscure in mainstream British culture. Olive is about Olive Morris, a black British activist, squatter, freedom fighter and British Black Panther party member. Though she died at only the age of 27 from non-Hodgkinson’s Lymphoma, Olive accomplished a huge amount in her brief lifetime. Her activism was tireless fighting against racism and police brutality, for womens and squatters rights. Olive also founded several political and activist groups in her lifetime. Such was her impact in Brixton where she lived, that in 1986, seven years after her death, a Lambeth council building was named after her, becoming known as Olive Morris House.
There was something of a Che Guevara revolutionary spirit about Olive. Like the famed Cuban revolutionary, Olive was also an academic on a constant quest to journey the world to learn more about socialist principles and revolutionary struggle. In 1972, she led a journey to meet the American Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver in Algeria. The journey failed, and she was stranded in Morocco with a friend, but these were the lengths she went to find those who could teach her and in turn allow her to inspire others. Olive would travel to Northern Ireland and China for similar learning expeditions which she would put in her writings.
The Ballad Of Olive Morris is not is not a feature or an extended long form project, so there is no way to do the rich tapestry of a life like hers justice without that kind of extended format. What we can do in a short film, is take a slice of that life and a truly formative and key experience in that life, to show what made Olive Morris such a special individual, whose story deserves to be far more widely known, if not essentially taught. And I hope this short can galvanize interest for a feature or a limited series on her life. The incident the short film covers took place in 1969 when Olive intervened in the arrest of a Nigerian diplomat in Brixton by police officers. Accounts vary of exactly how things escalated, but Olive was beaten up and arrested (alongside six other people) and faced racist abuse from the police and was threatened with sexual assault while in custody. This was arguably the key formative experience that drove Olive to dedicate her life to activism.
This story covers a lot of quite heavy ground. Racism, police brutality.
Even intersectional feminism, as Olive has an encounter with a somewhat sympathetic white policewoman who has their own internal struggle in regards to maintaining the patriarchal status quo of her male colleagues. But there is still a sense of hope and optimism by the end of the short, as Olive has become strengthened by her ordeal and begins her journey towards being a civil rights leader.
From a visual and storytelling perspective, because this is a period drama, mise en scene is hugely important in setting the scene and pulling the viewer directly into the time period the film is set in (1969). This can be achieved with an effective combination of cinematography, music, production and costume design. For the style of cinematography, we can reference HBO’s Watchmen (2019) series (historical scenes). Spike Lee’s BlackKkKlansman (2018) can be used as a visual reference point for the time period
From a psychological context, most of this film is told through Olive’s point of view, so a lot of tightly framed close-ups on her character in particular will be important to put the audience into her perspective.
In conclusion, The Ballad Of Olive Morris is a period short that is extremely timely and relevant to issues still facing our society today. It’s empowering for people to know singular activists against forms of oppression like Olive Morris did so much to improve civil rights in Britain in that era when stories like hers have often been under-examined. Olive's story may be in our historical past, but it still says everything about our present.