Jamaica Film Industry Needs Garveyism, Rastafari & Reggae
“Come on out, one who can draw?” Ivan, the protagonist in The Harder They Come, urges his nemesis, the police, to confront him. “Shut you mouth! You think the hero can’t die until the last reel?” He boasts.
“Send out one badman! Send him out! Draw!” He points his revolver at them, releasing bullets after bullets simultaneously with the officers who pierce his body with the bullets from their rifles. As the police surround Ivan’s lifeless body, his death reminds me of the inert state of our film industry and how much the industry needs Garveyism, Rastafari and Reggae to enjoy resurrection.
Surprisingly, The Harder They Come, with its naturalistic portrayal of our people and the use of Patois, gave rise to our film industry in 1972. By the end of 2016, our industry had produced fewer than 20 internationally acclaimed films like Smile Orange and Dancehall Queen within its 44 years of existence.
The deficiency of finance is considered the reason for such low productivity. Making a film is expensive and many of our local investors have shied away from funding Jamaica-base films. Furthermore, our government downplays the potential of the industry by offering very limited stimulus such as 16.5% tax rebate on all goods and services purchased on the island and a tax-free incentive on the profits of the films even though most Jamaican films do not reap profits.
Now, as our industry sits here in limbo, several producers are blaming the Jamaica Film Commission, the government arm within the film industry, for neglecting the local industry. They even criticize the government for hiring persons who have no training whatsoever in film production.
What the producers fail to realize is that our industry is sinking because they have yet to capitalize on Marcus Garvey’s dreams of Black Nationalism and economic development unlike Reggae and Rastafari which have adopted Garveyism and are experiencing tremendous success as a result.
Back in Garvey’s time, he promoted Black Nationalism under the Universal Negro Improvement Association as an identity for African people to have cultural freedom and racial pride. One of his main goals was to build a separate economy where Black people could exploit the heroes of the race and revitalise the splendour of African culture. Though Garvey never accomplished his vision of Black Separatism, his doctrines continued through the Ratafari movement and Reggae.
Both Rastafari followers and Reggae musicians embrace African heritage and history. Their consumption of natural food, their natural approach to life and the succulent rhythms from the Djembe drums are seen as quintessentially African. On the part of history, songs like ‘Black My Story’ by Ziggy Marley and ‘Not King James’ by Steel Pulse and several Rastafarian websites, including Rasta Live Wire, educate us on the time when Africa flourished with thriving kingdoms and vibrant culture before the dreadful period of slavery and colonisation.
Alongside Black Nationalism, Garvey encouraged economic development. Around 1919, he founded the Negroes Factory Corporation as a way for Black people to gain respect. The Corporation, during its time, successfully managed a chain of businesses in Harlem, New York. Inspired by the achievement of the corporation, Garvey went on to establish the Black Star Line Steamship Corporation to promote cross-continental trade but it was never successful. However, his plan of using wealth and economic influence to promote racial identity was realised in Harlem. The town created the 1920s cultural movement, known as the Harlem Renaissance, which kindled the new Black culture.
Rastafari movement has integrated Garvey’s self-help ideologies as well. Presently, most members are self-employed artisans, crafts vendors, food vendors, musicians and herbalists. Others operate restaurants, groceries, laundries, haberdasheries, manufacturing enterprises, entertainment lounges, media outlets and villas.
Reggae is perhaps the greatest symbolism of Garvey’s Black Nationalism and economic development. While it influenced the independence of many Black sovereigns from white imperialism, it builds itself into a multi-billion dollar industry with success in UK, Germany, USA, Canada, Brazil, New Zealand and Africa’s countries. Today, these countries boast their own Reggae festivals.
Imagine if our film industry embraced the same principles of Garveyism. The first thing to come out of the industry is an organisation with inspirational and formidable leaders who will oversee daily operation of the industry including attracting investors, marketing the brand and liaison with the government. That organisation is also required to birth, nurture and guide subdivisions responsible for the industry’s legal, technical and creative aspects.
The next thing is an identity like a flag or a logo that epitomises the industry’s mission. For instance, Garvey’s flag with the colours red, black and green embodies the UNIA’s motto ‘One God! One Aim! One Destiny!’.
As the organisation sets to revitalise the splendour of African culture, its producers, directors and screenwriters will entertain and educate us of the ancient times when the Benin Empire build amazing bronze sculptures to our present period of post colonisation and slavery when colorism, racism, corruption and globalisation affect us daily.
These stories, whether feature films or TV serials, will encourage commerce, industry and cross-continental trade among Black people. With co-branding, co-advertising, promotional giveaways, promotional tours and other forms of promotions, our industry exposes thousands of Black businesses to the wider audience of over 1 billion African people and expands business-to-business-to-customer relationships. A consequence of this is increased sales and employment.
Also, the stories determine which investors to approach. Take, for example, this story about Amanirena, the Queen of Kush, who struggles with her love for the Roman emperor while she tries to protect Kush (present-day Sudan) from Roman invasion. A concept like this will entice Sudanese designer Akuja de Garang and the African Association for History Education to jump on board because they know that the story serves their interest.
So, with the investors’ contributions and the organisation’s mission, our industry can now position itself as the centre of African literacy, intelligence and artistry. Only then it will share the success of Reggae and Rastafari. And, maybe one day, Jamaica’s Film Industry may rival Hollywood’s.
By Clevene Baker
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