“Caribbean actors in Hollywood movies do not inspire me”

Keryn Nelson
Keryn Nelson

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I love movies but, currently, seeing Caribbean actors in Hollywood movies does nothing for me

I anticipated BlackPanther’s release so much that I may have been the only local to have noticed the release date changed three times; from February 16, to the 22, and then the 21. I was livid, by the way, the day I noticed it was pushed back to February 22, noting that here in the Caribbean, we would be among the last–certainly the last in the African diaspora– to see it. On February 21, when by chance I logged in to the Caribbean Cinemas website and saw it was showing a day earlier, I joked with friends that it was a must that I be amongst the first on island to see the movie because no one deserved it more than I did (Marvel fans don’t fight me, it was really a joke, although I am also always one to say; people often disguise truths as “jokes”) but my reason for wanting to see it may differ from most.

Cast and Crew

In 2016, when I learned Chadwick Boseman was playing Blackpanther in Captain America Civil War, I dragged myself to the cinema to go watch a superhero movie—Superhero movies are not my least favourite but they certainly are not my most. Needless to say, I was a Chadwick Boseman fan. I had seen him in Get On Up, 42, even his smaller roles in movies like Draft Day, and as one of the few black faces in the tragically whitewashed “Gods of Egypt.” Ofcourse Boseman shone as BlackPanther in Civil War, and when Marvel confirmed the character would lead his own film, you guessed it, my non-superhero movie watching self was through the roof.

Months later, I discovered Ryan Coogler would direct BP which would also star Lupita N’yongo and Michael B Jordan alongside Boseman. It was not N’yongo’s impressive portrayal of Patsy in 12 Years a Slave or her other roles in The Jungle Book, Star Wars or as the flight attendant in Nonstop (yeah, I caught that one too) that had struck me most about the Kenyan actress. But more so the elegance, intelligence, class and sensuality with which she moves through the world all while cloaked in humility and “realness.”

Jordan on the other hand, caught my attention for less noble reasons. The crush I developed after seeing Chronicle for the first time ran deep. I was elated when I spotted him in the fourth season of the series Friday Night Lights. Although it has been over 6 years and fully healed from my crush, I had along the way watched Red Tails, That Awkward Moment, Fantastic Four, Creed and Fruitvale Station for more of Jordan’s magnetic, star power. The latter two movies mentioned however bring me to the most significant of reasons for my interest in BlackPanther; they were both directed by Ryan Coogler.

I learned of Ryan Coogler after watching Fruitvale station— the Director’s first feature film out of film school. I was hooked then, not by Hollywood glitz and glamour, but Fruitvale station told the compelling story of the deceased Oscar Grant who was unjustly shot dead in Oakland by police. I learned through interviews with Coogler and his leading cast that the film had received critical acclaim and picked up the Audience Award and Grand Jury price at the Sundance Film Festival as well as several other awards around the world. The fact that Coogler had made such an impact, right out of film school with a small budget was reason enough to follow his career. I would follow his career to when he made Creed. Coogler appears to move throw the world with a sense of purpose, naive millennial confidence coupled with a healthy amount of self-doubt, which I sense may very well be the driving force behind his pragmatic film-making style. The logistics behind his films are identifiable, yet seamless– he is a unique talent, one any young filmmaker would view as an inspiration.

Seeing Black Panther for the first time

When I made it to Caribbean Cinemas on February 21, Wednesday night, straight from work, I was there mainly for the cast and crew. All of whom ofcourse, did not disappoint.

My favourite character in the movie was Shuri. I fangirled over her coolness, her intelligence, her strength, and this was before I learned the actor playing her was Guyanese.

Both Letitia Wright and Winston Duke – actor behind M’baku, who now has a large group of female admirers– were heralded in Caribbean circles, primarily on social media, for their Carbbean heritage (Duke being “Trinibagonian”). When I learned of it, I too, proudly relayed the information to my family and friends and the news was met with pleasant surprise. But upon watching interviewe related to the film, I noted that both actors had left the Caribbean before the age of ten.

Opportunity

When atleast one parent is from the Caribbean, a child is bound to grow up identifying heavily with Caribbean culture but what they may not identify with is the actual physical limitations of living on a rock, or a dot on a neighbouring continent with similar history and setbacks. Caribbean people too, have dreams. We, as children, grew up watching movies like everyone else, and some of us developed a deep seeded desire to make and be in them as well. But for many of us, our dreams come to an abrupt halt once we leave secondary school and the impracticality of surviving on a passion forces us to change course simply because there is absolutely no avenue or opportunities for growth nor rewards for your natural expertise. You also have what feels like 0 resources at your disposal. The few of us who remain adamant about pursuing our interests ofcourse then, look for the easiest way to book a flight out. Will the time ever come when leaving will not be the only option?

Our creative industries often see the dark halls of inconsistency as ideas come and go; intiatives start, thrive then end— the money to keep them going never a certainty. We simply do not have the platforms to fortify our talents; to give artists that feeling of accomplishment, even after productions and projects begin, run and end. In a world where the American voice and accomplishments are so loud and bright, they penetrate our world at all angles and make our initiatives seem small, and overlooked by the wider public. Where as small towns in foreign places may have community theatres, where paid acting work may be only a bus or train ride away, here in the Caribbean, you better learn fast how to make your own oppurtunities.

Moving on, anyway

As we often do, we learn to press on. There are still creatives churning, working, growing, throwing things on the walls and hoping they stick. The Leila Janah quote “talent is evenly distributed, opportunity is not” often comes to mind when I think about Caribbean actors, filmmakers, directors and the like. Everyday, the number of persons pursuing their interest in film seems to grow here, especially with the rise in festivals, workshops, competitions and clubs. Information regarding the ease with which films can be submitted to local, regional and international festivals is reaching more people. We all look forward to that time when travelling will not be a necessity for working on craft, but only the positive result of hard work, opportunity and achievement.

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  • Lorris Shuriah
    April 19, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    I really enjoy this. It was a great read.