What started as a talking point for a Toastmasters presentation is now a screenplay the author hopes will share the fight for human rights during St. Croix’s 1878 Fireburn with an international audience.
Angela Golden Bryan needed a good story for a communications course with Toastmasters International. She remembered a party where her aunts spoke of her great, great grandmother, Moriah, who they said had witnessed the Fireburn rebellion.
The story dates back to 1848 when slavery was abolished on St. Croix. Sadly, the quality of life didn’t improve much for the former slaves, as the laws created under Danish rule didn’t give them access to proper healthcare, housing, education or income.
Pent-up resentment towards the unfair treatment climaxed with a violent revolt on Oct. 1, 1878. In the following days, rioters burned down about 50 plantations and most of Frederiksted. At one point, Danish police and military personnel had to retreat into the Frederiksted fort.
It was near this very fort that Bryan sat down with the Source to talk about how much the story of the revolt inspired her. It became her Toastmasters presentation and later a performing arts piece. And as she delved deeper into the historical research, Bryan felt the need to reach larger audiences.
“The story was so well received,” she said. “As I got more and more into it, I said ‘This is more than a story for Toastmasters. This is more than something for me to act in. This is an important part of USVI history that needs to be told.’ ”
A screenplay evolved.
Journey to Amazon Best Sellers List
Her first launch of, “Fireburn The Screenplay: A story of passion ignited,” in September 2018 didn’t go very well. Bryan said part of the reason was her modest approach to marketing.
“It was just a very quiet occurrence, and I told my friends ‘Oh, by the way, my book is published,’ ” she said. “I was very much opposed to what I felt was like tooting my own horn so to speak. I just felt like it wasn’t very humble.”
But friends and supporters encouraged her to adopt a bolder marketing approach. They asked her if she believed the time and effort that she’d put into the screenplay was valuable. They asked her if she believed the screenplay was worthy of an audience larger than a select group of people.
“That’s when I realized that I owed it, not only to myself, but to people who would like to be entertained by the book, or to learn a bit more, or to be inspired, or whatever it does for them,” she said. “And that’s how the relaunch came, and I’m really happy that I did.”
The relaunch of the book this July led “Fireburn The Screenplay” to briefly hold the number one spot on Amazon’s best seller list for screenplays.
Three women who participated in the Fireburn – Queen Mary, Queen Agnes, and Queen Mathilda – have become symbols of the uprising against colonial powers. (Some say there was a fourth queen, Susanna Abramsen, who took part in the Fireburn uprising.) In Bryan’s historical fiction, the four women are best friends who take on a ruthless estate owner named Griffith.
According to the author, one of the most memorable scenes is when Griffith “gets what’s coming to him” near the end of the book. Another memorable scene, Bryan said, is one of pre-contract day celebrations where laborers are “eating their fried fish and johnny cake and calilou, and they have a scratch band.”
Throughout the book, there are elements of romance and comedy to help balance out the heavy issues addressed in the story, such as rape, abuse or unfair wages, Bryan said.
“My intent is that the reader goes on an emotional roller coaster ride when they’re reading this. It’s very visceral,” she said.
Relevance Beyond Virgin Islands’ Shores
For Bryan, her screenplay is more than entertainment. It’s about using the history of her family and her people to touch on social issues that still affect people today.
Bryan was born at Fort Bragg, North Carolina – the result of a union between a St. Croix man and New York woman who found each other during their military service. She moved to St. Croix at age 4 and didn’t leave until after she graduated from St. Joseph Catholic High School. She said that after living abroad for some time, researching the Fireburn reignited pride in where she came from.
“I think I’m pretty typical of a person that grows up on an island. You don’t necessarily, as a kid, have all of this national pride or ethnic pride,” Bryan said. “Now, I’m researching this – I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh! What beautiful, fierce, wonderful people we have here.’ ”
The story of those “fierce, wonderful people” illustrates the importance of standing up for human rights, she said. The issue of human rights violations touches people all over the world, making the story relevant for everyone, not just Virgin Islanders, according to Bryan.
The author hopes that one day her screenplay will become a feature film produced by media mogul Oprah Winfrey. The idea is to use the historical fiction to generate as much global interest as possible in the real history, she said.
How to Purchase the Book and Give to the Queen Louise Home
Bryan has simplified the process of searching for the screenplay with a website that leads buyers directly to details about the book and a link for purchase on Amazon.
The website also allows buyers to record their purchase. For every person that records their purchase of “Fireburn The Screenplay,” Bryan promises to donate $1 to the Queen Louise Home for Children via her charity, the Fireburn Foundation.