A movie on the Black Catholic Civil War hero André Cailloux, first brought to the silver screen in 2020, was recently made available for streaming on a major platform for the first time—just in time for Black History Month.
“Cailloux” is a short film depicting the escapades of the legendary New Orleanian, born into slavery in 1825 and later becoming one of the first Black officers in the history of the continent. His funeral, which drew thousands, has also been connected to the advent of jazz funerals and “second line” parades in New Orleans.
Cailloux was originally commissioned in 1861 as a Confederate lieutenant in the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, an all-Black unit formed to protect the Crescent City. He later became a Union officer in a unit under the same name, which he famously led in the Siege of Port Hudson in 1863.
Cailloux was killed in the six-week battle, and tales of his valiant death becoming a rallying cry for Black participation on the Union side. He and his unit's efforts also helped dispel racist ideas about Black inadequacy in combat.
The director of “Cailloux,” Gulf Coast native Dane Moreton, first heard of the story through a friend who was working with an artist on a memorial for Cailloux in New Orleans.
“We woke up to the sound of wood being cut downstairs,” Moreton said of the day in 2017 he and his partner Lauren Durr, who also worked on the film, met Langston Allston, who was creating a triptych for the former St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church—where the soldier was famously buried by a radical Catholic priest in 1863.
“There were lines of people paying their respects a mile long during his funeral... His memory has subsided substantially. So not a whole lot of people know who he is.”
Inspired by his conversation with Allston, Moreton was originally going to create a movie about the art installation, which remained for a time on the boarded-up walls of St. Rose. Quickly, however, the vision grew into a fuller story of Cailloux’s journey, which was as much about justice as it was about war.
To learn more, Moreton read Dr. Stephen Ochs’ book “A Black Patriot and a White Priest,” which details the connection between Cailloux and Fr Claude Paschal Maistre, the priest who funeralized him. The French-born cleric was a crusader against slavery and the Confederacy—a position that earned him censure from his archbishop, Jean-Marie Odin, CM of New Orleans.
Maistre persisted, and following Cailloux’s death, his widow Felicie asked the anti-racist priest to officiate the funeral Mass at St. Rose. Despite the interdict against him, Maistre agreed. The priest, whose memory had also been largely forgotten, was included in Allston’s memorial and is featured in the new film.
“I just felt that there was a bigger story to be told,” Moreton said.
“We're happy to be able to do this, to shed some light on history and make sure that these two individuals are remembered for their good deeds.”
The film has since been shown at schools and other institutions since its release, though the COVID-19 pandemic hampered much of the early promotional efforts. Moreton continues to accept screening proposals on a limited basis.
Ironically, Cailloux’s recognition in the public sphere has recently grown exponentially, though not necessarily as a direct result of the short film.
Cailloux’s name replaced a segregationist’s at a public park in 2020, during the “Take ‘Em Down” movement against racist memorials in New Orleans in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. It was the first known renaming for Cailloux since his death more than 150 years earlier.
(A small plaque near his gravesite was installed in 1998 at St. Louis Cemetery #2 in New Orleans. The National Emancipation Monument Association proposed a grand statue honoring Cailloux in Springfield, Illinois, in 1889, but the plans failed due to lack of funding.)
On the national scene, Mustafa Shakir starred as Cailloux in the 2022 Will Smith film “Emancipation,” the same year the former St. Rose of Lima Church became the André Cailloux Center for Performing Arts and Cultural Justice.
Moreton says he sent a copy of the film to Shakir, and that seeing Cailloux portrayed in a feature-length Hollywood effort was “an amazing moment”—especially given that no photos exist of the historic military leader.
He also says he likes to think his short film played a part in the Black Catholic hero receiving his due in New Orleans.
“At the beginning of our film, it says that there are no streets that bear Cailloux’s name. No schools, whatever,” he said.
“I'm happy to say that's no longer true.”
“Cailloux” is streaming now on Amazon Prime, at $0.99 for rental and $4.99 for purchase. Screening kits and contact info for Moreton are available on the film’s official website.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.