When Netflix screenwriter Rae Benjamin learned more about post-revolutionary Haiti, she was inspired to use her talent to share it with the world. Growing up as a Black woman in America, Benjamin was floored when she became aware of the intricate nobility system King Christophe established post-revolution, and what it meant for Afro-Latinos and African Americans alike.
Haiti was the first and only country to attain independence from European colonizers through a successful revolution by formerly enslaved Africans after the Battle of Vertière, Batay Vètyè in 1803.
As a screenwriter, Benjamin wanted to create a historical fiction television pilot that used Haiti’s rich history as its basis and bring this piece of the past to more people. But, she knew she couldn’t do it alone.
“I was really inspired to tell this story because I think as Black people, we don’t really have many period pieces that are positive,” Benjamin told LatinaMedia.Co. “They’re all just very trauma based and me personally, I don’t really live my entire existence as a reflection of white people and what they’ve done to me.”
Using her sense of cultural awareness, Benjamin sought out Al Plancher, a Haitian screenwriter and film director to help guide the project as someone who knows Haitian history first-hand.
At first, Plancher was reluctant. He was raised in Haiti and has deep familiarity with the country’s history, but originally he wasn’t interested in being more than a source to help Benjamin ensure her work was culturally accurate.
After multiple follow-up calls and a further understanding of Benjamin’s idea, the duo teamed up to write the early stages of Prestige.
“I fell in love with it because it was much more than just the historical aspect of [Haiti],” Plancher shared as he reflected on the story-writing process, “There were real characters that were developing real juicy storylines.”
Once Benjamin and Plancher teamed up as executive producers and co-writers, they realized that getting an independent television show off the ground required more of a lift than they had access to. Getting Black, Latinx, and Black Latinx stories made can be nearly impossible.
But they knew they had a story that had to be told so they pivoted to making a podcast, which takes less investor buy-in. The result is Prestige, a fictional audio drama set in post-revolutionary Haiti that they produced with capital obtained from a crowdfunding campaign.
Throughout the compelling series, the characters compromise their morals and safety to gain control in the kingdom. The main character, Léonie Bijoux, is voiced by Shein Mompremier, a Haitian-American actor best known for her recurring roles as Chenoa in the CW’s Black Lightning.
Despite being in an affirming environment, Mompremier battled imposter syndrome as an on-screen actor who was doing voice work for the first time. On top of that, she doubted her place as the lead because she wasn’t born in Haiti.
There’s “every now and then some insecurities about being born here in America,” Mompremier said, “Although I am fluent in Haitian Creole, aside from messing around with my family and mimicking my elders and the way they speak with their accents, I had never actually utilized a Haitian accent.”
“I knew that that role had to be done by a Black Haitian woman, just because I’m not one and [Benjamin’s] not one and we were writing about [that perspective],” Plancher shared, valuing Mompremier’s voice in more ways than one.
Benjamin and Plancher’s intentionality in hiring carried throughout the entire cast as well. Every voice actor on board is Haitian and Prestige’s entire production cast identifies as people of color.
The Prestige podcast has been releasing weekly episodes since Nov 18. Readers interested in hearing the juicy story of Léonie Bijoux navigating power and royalty in 1813 Haiti can list now at prestigepod.com.