Wed | Jun 20, 2018

Lennie Little-White | Jamaica needs a superhero

Published:Sunday | May 20, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Lennie Little-White

It is a universal truth that most cultures have a superhero - whether mammon or a godhead. Tradition is that it has to be a 'he' as opposed to a 'she'. Our most famous superhero is Brer Anancy, whose brainpower exceeded his brawn.

Our Jamaican Anancy is a corruption of 'Anansi' - an Akan folktale character from the Ashanti people of Ghana. West Africans considered Anansi as the creator of the world with mythical powers to act as a go-between of humans and the sky-god, 'Nyame'.

Today, Jamaica lacks a superhero who resides in a collective consciousness because of love and not by force. For many of this generation, the superheroes are gun-toting dons who rule the inner cities across Jamaica. Some say this is not a new phenomenon, because it started with the original 'bad bwoy', Rhygin, who received international acclaim in the person of his alter ego, Ivan, played brilliantly by Jimmy Cliff in Perry Henzell's The Harder They Come.

Most of today's quasi-superheroes are demigods whose power derives from the gun, drugs, scamming, internecine political warfare and state agencies like the police and the army. If we were a little more liberal, many would have elevated Senior Superintendent Reneto Adams to superhero status as the self-proclaimed antidote for the dons.

 

PAROCHIAL REALITY

 

So, while we remain rooted in our parochial reality, many young people look further afield for new superheroes - whether real of fictional. The latest one to emerge on the landscape is Black Panther, who is the King of Wakanda - a mythical comic book-cum-cinematic creation from Marvel Comics and Studios. Because of the Internet and social media, Black Panther is as real as Dudus, Bigga Ford, Trinity and Reneto were.

International box-office success has made Black Panther a movie grossing in excess of US$1 billion. This is a phenomenon for several reasons. Primary among these is the fact that it boasts an almost all-black cast playing roles, none of which were drug pushers, whores or addicts dependent on social largesse of the State.

Even more surprising, it was directed by Ryan Coogler - a young African-American who was making only his third feature film. Who would imagine that a major studio like Marvel would give him a budget of US$200 million to make a movie - and, especially, one about African people. All his black director predecessors never achieved this collectively in any one movie - not Spike Lee, not John Singleton, not Tyler Perry, and not Steve McQueen (of Twelve Years a Slave fame). This is a significant milestone, not just for Coogler but for the power brokers to accept that there are many more black stories that can have commercial success in the movie world.

 

OUTSIDE THE BOX

 

Another significant creative milestone of Black Panther is the fact that the director of photography was Rachel Morrison - a woman behind-the-lens for a major movie production. Like Coogler, this was also Morrison's third feature film - and she nailed it. Marvel Studios stepped outside the box and offered the job to a happily married lesbian in a world controlled by male heterosexuals. The combination of a young black director and a white lesbian director of photography is a breakthrough and portends positive beginnings to destroy negative racial and sexual stereotypes in movie production.

As a filmmaker myself, I am probably too caught up in the mechanics of the film relative to the screen candy to be found in the story and the stars. This is where I have mixed feelings and disappointments. Given the across-the-board hype that accompanied the movie, my first let-down was the weak screenplay, which lacks creative innovation and new horizons.

Naturally, Coogler - who is also the co-writer - would have been influenced by the superheroes in blockbusters like Terminator, Superman, Matrix, Star Wars, to name a few. But why did he lapse into the stereotype of having the lone white hero coming to save the day for the black king?

So, what does all this observation have to do with the state of affairs in Jamaica? This is our Wakanda - without any current superheroes. Bolt has retired, having created his own international kingdom and superstar status while basking in the shadow of Bob Marley.

That leaves us with our politicians. No one can question the superhero status of Norman Manley and Bustamante. Since then, three came close and knocked at the door but never quite made the quantum leap to be called superheroes. Today, we have no politicians who have the potential to grow into a superhero. Most of the current band of political leaders are either has-beens, rejects or wannabes without vision or purpose. So, who can our newest generation emulate?

Castro, 'ChÈ' Guevara, Mandela, Stephen Biko, Martin Luther King and Marcus Garvey are iconic names etched on tombstones in a vast international graveyard. Bronze statues and names on highways and high-rise buildings are not symbolic enough to inspire young Jamaicans.

We do not need our own Black Panther-King T'Challa or Anancy Redux, but we do need a superhero with an independent mind and a singleness of purpose that will inspire the new Jamaicans to build our own Kingdom here on the Rock - without aping the myth of Wakanda.

Without doubt, Anancy, or Anansi, the spider god, has become passe in our current dispensation. Corruption in the Church and among our politicians has dimmed the beacon of hope and inspiration for young Jamaicans and Caribbean people for that matter. We need a superhero as a unifying symbol to inspire us to believe in our ability and power to rise against the odds and who will dare a Donald Trump to ever describe our country and people as a reservoir of faecal matter.

Who among us is bold enough with the vision and swagger to tear down the last vestiges of colonialism that continue to stifle the creative and entrepreneurial energies of a people still relegated to the back burner of an independent Jamaica? Do you see a Jamaican 'he' or a 'she' ready to claim and wear the crown? Send me a name, please.

- Lennie Little-White, CD, MA, is a Jamaican filmmaker and writer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and lennielittle.white@gmail.com.