[SOUTH FLORIDA] – The Hollywood movie-making machine has taken a few tentative steps toward increasing diversity. Mostly with Black actors, stories, and cultural representation. However, Afro-Caribbean representation in the film industry has not been a priority. Both from either a public perspective or an industry one. A lot of media attention has focused on the overwhelming whiteness of the Oscars awards ceremonies and the movies themselves.
The call to use Jamaicans to play Jamaicans in movies is not something new.
With an ever-increasing focus on diversity and proper representation of different cultures on screen, it is important to note that Black does not define a monolithic group. Tokenization is a problem; a film can erroneously consider itself representative if there are one or two people with darker skin. Unfortunately, this falls short of the goal of inclusion and representation of reality.
Afro-Caribbean voices in the film industry represent a large group of people who do not get to see characters who share their background and culture on the big screen. Even though the United States has the highest percentage of Afro-Caribbean residents outside the region itself, the biggest movie-making center fails to offer representative roles appropriately.
Like most burgeoning changes, the push for more Caribbean heritage representation in the movies begins with a small, dedicated group. Sade Clacken Joseph, owner of Out of Many Media production company, has recently hosted a short film screening in Los Angeles’s Soho House to screen a short called “Belonging.” This not only offered an opportunity to see Afro-Caribbean voices on screen, but it also opened a dialogue about past experiences and a smart path forward for more inclusive practices.
Wyclef inspired film, The Sweestest Girl, won some accolades just last year. The trend is going in favor of more Caribbean representation in the film industry. A much-needed step.
Inclusion means little if representation suffers. Not only does the Band-Aid fix of throwing a few darker-skinned characters into a film fail to represent Black culture as a whole, but having Black characters does not offer representation for specific heritages within that group. Afro-Caribbean people have a different history, cultural range, and current circumstances than African Americans. Accuracy matters when it comes to improving the characters people see on screen. Ky-mani Marley debuted as an actor, writer, and director just last year.
All misrepresentations in popular media transform the minds of the uneducated into truth. Erasing a prominent culture from all movies makes it impossible for people who do not personally know Afro-Caribbean folks to recognize and understand them. Portraying people from diverse backgrounds and cultures accurately and respectfully humanizes them. Especially in ways that most people will not get to experience in the real world.
We’ve come a long way from the best Jamaican movies to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006.
Short films and small independent film production companies like Out of Many Media and Mental Telepathy Pictures, owned by a Jamaican American named Robert A. Maylor, offer a lot when it comes to encouraging inclusion and authentic representation in movies. As the focus on diversity increases, Afro-Caribbean voices in Hollywood will become louder and more recognizable. This requires authenticity and a focus on the real experiences and cultural identity of people from the Caribbean islands. It cannot fall back on the surface solutions of tokenism and monolithic Black identities like Hollywood has been guilty of for far too long.