A year ago March 31, 2012 was the inaugural Curaçao International Film Festival. A festival based on the Rotterdam model led by multimillionaire Gregory Elias. The prime attraction was the premier of ‘Marley’, about the life of Bob Marley by Scottish documentary filmmaker, Kevin MacDonald. In a packed auditorium MacDonald told that he felt uncomfortable about holding the film’s premier in Curaçao before its, Jamaica on April 19th. Noticeably absent from the audience, that called to mind a lecture attended by the business elite, were, members of the Curaçao’s Rastafari and reggae communities, and social justice advocates, in short, the many of the people whose lives and work have been inspired by the message of liberation Marley’s music and personal beliefs. Instead, the attendees, represented the power structure within Dutch-Caribbean, neo-colonial society who keep “Babylon belly full.”
After the event, I wondered why the Marley family did not seek out a Jamaican filmmaker to document their father’s life, before they were approached by MacDonald, steeped as they are in the Rastafarian philosophy espoused by their parents. Could it be because Kevin MacDonald is an Oscar-winner? Perhaps, it’s because a white European director virtually guarantees global commercial success? Have they lost faith in Black cinematic skills? Or is it the co-executive producer Chris Blackwell factor, a man who owns the copyright to much of Marley’s music?
To me the choice of MacDonald, gives power to the idea that Jamaicans/Afro-Caribbeans can’t create works to honor their own cultural heroes, a theme that resonates on my own island, Curaçao, and throughout the Caribbean. Here, the repercussions of “friendly” Dutch cinematic imperialism are unmistakeable. Recently, Dutch filmmakers unashamedly try to make the first ever movie about our national hero, Tula. Few Curaçaoans protested as though it was absolutely normal that no Afro-Curaçaoan was tapped or consulted to direct.
It’s true that the Curaçaoan film industry is weak and that training programs do not exist here, which is linked directly to the fact that under the Dutch, art education was severely neglected; only a small and wealthy elite the chance to study cinematography abroad, a situation that may be similar in Jamaica.
In Curaçao there is certainly no big cinematic culture, no film academy, no full time cinematographers. But in Jamaica where the arts and the cultural arena is at least slightly more developed, why has the cinematic industry been bypassed for the making of a film about one of the country’s national icons? What can we do in the future to make sure that a Jamaican filmmaker gets the job? How can Jamaicans and their fellow Afro Caribbeans begin to think differently and begin to create a culture of art independence and ownership consciousness?
Through our Afro-Caribbean cinema lenses we can liberate ourselves from colonial belief systems breaking the circle of foreign cinematic art domination. By buying into ideas about the supremacy of white, European expressive art, we lose our own freedom of expression and by extension respect for that freedom of expression which pushes us further from developing an Afro-Caribbean (Jamaican, Curaçaoan, Haitian, Dominican, et. al.) cinematic culture and aesthetic. Allowing outsiders tell your history before you get a chance to strengthens the foreign cinematic industrial complex and the impact of this kind of foreign artistic graveliciousness surely is not something that Jamaica deserves to experience.