The Caribbean is known for its tropical weather, rich culture, delicious food, and beautiful beaches. Unfortunately, many natives do not live in paradise due to the hateful climate of homophobia. However, a few Caribbean creatives are using the best of their abilities to create a dialogue.
Bahamian filmmaker Kendrick Prince said in an interview with Out, “I’ve always been drawn to characters who are obscure; and this is due in part to my own experiences growing up queer in the Caribbean, where there are virtually no LGBTQ rights.”
Another Bahamian filmmaker, Maria Govan, explained to LargeUp why queer representation matters to her: “It is very important to me to make films with queer characters. What is really important to acknowledge in the Caribbean and in my work in general is what I think is one of the most devastating things that exists in the Caribbean, is the level of denial and hypocrisy. People know what everyone is doing, but so long as it is kept under wraps, and it is not talked about, we go along with the lie. It’s a very sick culture for that reason. There are so many levels of denial of the truth.”
The first LGBTQ+ film festival in the Caribbean was started in 2009. Since then, the Puetro Rico Queer Filmfest has also become the largest LGBTQ+ festival in the region as they “accept films from all over the world”. Even in Toronto, Canada, The CaribbeanTales International Film Festival was started to showcase “LGBT Caribbean stories and filmmakers”. Activist and journalist Tasheka Lavann emphasized the importance of the festival as it highlights stories of a shared experience from those who are both Caribbean and queer.
Considering many of us who are queer and from the Caribbean still live in fear due to our societies; there are few who have been brave enough to share our stories. We are fortunate that some have been outspoken and are making a positive change with their art.
Here are some favourite LGBTQ+ films from the Caribbean that create a much-needed dialogue for this time:
Children of God
The award-winning film, Children of God, is considered to be one of the first Caribbean narrative films to address homosexuality. Directed and written by Bahamian filmmaker Kareem Mortimer, this romantic drama focuses on the relationship of two young Bahamian men as they live in a homophobic society. Their stories end up interconnected with one about a conservative wife of a closeted pastor.
The internationally-acclaimed Children of God is a feature remake of Mortimer’s short film, Float. Stephen Tyrone Williams, who portrays Romeo in the short, reprises his role in the feature.
Mortimer has directed a couple of films regarding the LGBTQ+ community of The Bahamas; which is especially remarkable considering the country banned Brokeback Mountain.
Second Eulogy: Mind the Gap
Grenadian filmmaker Billy Gerard Frank’s film, Second Eulogy: Mind the Gap is a “fluid mix of a semi-autobiographical and fictional narrative” that explores the struggles of being gay in the Caribbean. Frank has explained that he grew up in Grenada feeling exiled due to “internalized homophobia”. When his father became ill, he returned home after living in the US for eighteen years; which helped him confront his feelings and also discover his father’s mementos. This ultimately inspired the film. Shot in just five days, Mind the Gap is also an abstract tale that mainly focuses on a family of a fisherman and his wife who is representative of the “island’s colonial past” along with their son and maid.
Santa & Andres
Santa y Andrés is an internationally-produced film from Cuba, Columbia, and France by Cuban director Carlos Lechuga. A drama set in 1983, Santa is a local farmer assigned to keep surveilance of Andrés, “a dissident gay novelist,” after he is placed under house arrest. The controversial film ended up being pulled from the Havana Film Festival; and similarly to the film’s plot, it was banned from its own country due to political themes.
Play The Devil
Play The Devil is a drama set in Trinidad and Tobago by Bahamian director/writer Maria Govan. The film focuses on eighteen-year-old Greg, who is in a push-and-pull of family and admirers. He is about to graduate and go off to medical school, potentially making the family proud; however, an older businessman, James Young, shows interest in the young man and discovers Greg’s creative and sexual repressions.
Govan, who has herself “struggled with [her] queerness” and a “self-destructive path,” explained in an interview with LargeUp that a news story about a teenaged Trinidadian boy committing suicide after a lover threatened to out him especially touched her and served as a catalyst for the film’s story.
“For me, the film is deeper than the denial about homosexuality, and is more about the pervasive hypocrisy and culture of dishonesty that exists in many Caribbean societies, and that I think needs to be tackled,” she says, “I think one way of doing it, is by exposing it in film, as much as we can, to start breaking that down.”
Sand Dollars, also called Dólares de arena, is the unique film adaption of Jean-Noel Pancrazi’s novel of the same name. The original script was about two men as it is in the original story. However, after Charlie Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine Chaplin, a legendary actress in her own right; expressed interest in the film, the directors rewrote it to be about two women.
The other leads in the cast were non-actors, which gives an added layer of authenticity. The film is set in an “idyllic seaside city in the Dominican Republic” and focuses on the transactional relationship between a wealthy European (Chaplin) and a poor local girl who is trying to make enough money to leave the country. Directed by husband-wife team Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán, the film also has received recognition internationally through being screened at TIFF. Although it didn’t make it to the 88th Academy Awards, it was the Dominican entry for Best Foreign Language Film.
Jamaica is not just one of the most homophobic countries, but it is technically illegal to be gay. Jamaica-born filmmaker Selena Blake made Taboo Yardies, a feature documentary to explore homophobia of Jamaica. It includes Jamaicans who are pro, con, and in-between on the topic of homosexuality; and gives a voice to those normally voiceless as it brings light to the violence against LGBTQ+ Jamaicans.
Bahamian filmmaker Kendrick Prince used Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner as the foundation for the basic premise of his short film Gema as it focuses on a trans woman (POSE‘s MJ Rodriguez) and her anxiety over meeting her fiance’s parents. The short-film has premiered on HBO.
If you know of any more LGBTQ+ themed Caribbean films, comment below!
Cover Image: Play the Devil