The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival is an annual, week-long screening of films aimed at growing and bringing recognition to Caribbean cinema. It showcases films based on Caribbean culture and diaspora. Until this year, I had never attended the festival. So when they reached out to me to view a few films, I couldn’t resist. Before I get a bit more in-depth, I just want to express how enlightening and moving this experience was. Without a doubt, I will be in attendance next year.
I viewed the films: ‘Black Doll’, ‘From Colonization to Cake Soap Colorism in Jamaican Society’, ‘Black Hair’ and ‘Three Women: About Slavery and Freedom’.
Directed by Akley Olton
This short film starts off by showing a young girl of African descent playing with and combing the hair of Barbie dolls. She then has her own hair combed and begins crying due to the pain. A pain that most, if not all curly-haired girls have experienced at least once.
This film really made me think about the lack of black dolls on the market. The typical, blonde, straight-haired Barbie perpetuates the idea that straight is ‘more beautiful’ or ‘better’. But is that really the case? The little girl in this film felt a sense of rage. She cut off the hair of the Barbie dolls and well…I too have been there.
The scene that stood out for me the most was when the child stood infront of a mirror, admiring her natural fro and asked: “Why can’t I go to school like this?”. She was then called by her grandmother so that she could have her hair combed. I’ve experienced a lifetime of being told to make my hair neater and that my natural hair wasn’t neat enough.
From Colonization to Cake Soap Colorism in Jamaican Society
Directed by Zoe Davidson
This documentary addresses the ever so prominent issue of colorism in Jamaica as a result of slavery. One of the persons interviewed for the documentary discussed the unfair placement he received when hired for a job in Air Jamaica due to the colour of his skin, despite his qualifications. He also expressed being told by his father to cut his hair ‘low’ and to ‘oil it’ in order to make it anywhere in Jamaica.
The ill-treatment of Rastafarians in Jamaica is also addressed in this documentary. The fact that they were seen as lower-class and ‘unclean’ obstructed them from being able to attend school until as late as the 1980’s.
Skin bleaching is discussed as well as it’s unfortunate promotion by Dancehall artists. This stems back to the desire to be ‘white’ in order to have a better chance of making it in Jamaica.
Directed by Gabriella Bernard & Miquel Galforé
This documentary presented Gabriella Bernard, an upcoming model. It discussed her hair journey, from relaxing it at a very young age, as she wasn’t able to ‘handle it’, to doing a big chop and embracing her natural hair. She talked about Barbie dolls being her, and probably most of our first idols. Similar to that shown in ‘Black Doll’.
She also spoke about her desire to have naturally straight hair and the fact that she would leave the relaxer in her hair for a longer period of time with the hope that it’d seep through her scalp and allow her hair to grow straight. This reminded me of a similar personal experience. There was a time, a few years ago, when I’d straighten my hair every day. When I’d wash it, I hoped and prayed that’d It’d remain straight even after the water hit it. This is the level of desperation that we both arrived at when we wanted anything but our natural hair texture.
She also discussed her experience when competing on Caribbean’s next top model. She was told to relax her hair or be eliminated from the show. The fact that natural hair is still not accepted, especially on a Caribbean based show is astounding, to say the least.
Gabriella also expressed the view that black features are trendy on everyone except black people. From the big lips to the big asses and everything in between. We see this being more and more prominent as time goes on. When are we going to start loving these features on our black women?
Three Women: About Slavery and Freedom
Directed by Ida Does
This film features three women who set out to discover more about their enslaved ancestors and addressed the ill-treatment of African slaves by the Dutch.
The film discusses the fact that said slaves were treated as property. They were branded using a hot iron in order to show who their ‘owner’ was. Slaves who attempted to commit suicide had their hands cut off as a form of punishment. A loss of life translated to a loss of property/wealth for the slaveowners.
This film not only opened my eyes but also sparked a fascination in me, to learn more about my own ancestors.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed each and every film and couldn’t have asked for a better experience. These films made me feel a sense of self-love and pride and so naturally, I came home and took selfies with the biggest, most genuine smile on my face.
Until next time,