When most folks think of Jamaica, it’s pretty safe two say that two competing images immediately spring to mind. On the one hand, the beautiful beaches and cool reggae music that have been commoditized and peddled by the tourism industry; on the other, stark stories of gangsters and violence that are most prevalent in Jamaican films and music videos.
Why the great discrepancy? Not being Jamaican, it would be difficult to say with any authority, but I suspect we can look at what happened here in America for clues.
There is a certain demographic of Jamaican youth who idolize movies like “Scarface” or “Goodfellas”, in much the same way that American hip-hop culture rallied around those films in the 90’s. At one point a typical hip-hop video show would have music by A Tribe Called Quest, Souls of Mischief, The Geto Boys, N.W.A. and Common; this is a pretty egalitarian group of artists. Sometime in the early 2000s most of the videos looked the same with artists that sounded alike. One style dominating any artistic movement masks the beauty of the variety that said art has to offer, and thus one message dominates the mediums that influence generations to come.
In America, the movies greatly influenced the music. In Jamaica, the movies influenced the music. A decade and a half ago, dancehall music was much more eclectic than the steady stream of violent war chants that exist today, so it’s no wonder that the filmmakers who were cultivated in this environment of negativity are also turning out gangster tales. Some of the most popular films out of Jamaica are dominated by violence (Dancehall Queen, Third World Cop, Shottas, The Harder They Come), and of course once it becomes popular it has become commoditized as well.
It is likely true that violence in Jamaican films is also a reflection of the environment: poverty is still fairly widespread, and there are large gaps between the haves and the have-nots. Circumstances such as these can often influence graphic stories and images in popular media, regardless of the culture.
While Daoud and I recognize that sometimes art is about reflecting reality as it is, we also strongly believe that art can also just as easily project the reality you want to cultivate. And “…The Harder They Fall” does just that. There is so much beauty, humility and authenticity to be found in Jamaica, and the stock of films and videos out at the moment representing the island simply do not do it justice.
There is a brand new movement fomenting in Jamaican society, driven by people committed to changing the island’s image through media and politics. Authorities are putting pressure on musicians to clean up their act or face legal consequences (Vybz Kartel), and young people have been getting more involved in a variety of arts and other creative endeavors that are helping to foster this more positive image. As one of young actors, Gabio Campbell, explains:
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. It is the final week of our Kickstarter campaign, and we are so close. Please do what you can to help us make “…The Harder They Fall” a reality. We really believe this film can play a huge role in helping to bring about the changes Jamaicans themselves are looking for.