The Harder They Come

I’m going to wander a little bit from the usual path, by going into the world of film. Actually it’s not much of a wander when you see that my ‘two most important films’ to come out of Jamaica are the “Harder They Come” and “Life and Debt”.
The 2001 documentary “Life and Death” (from here shortened as LD) is my #2 most important movie. Produced and directed by New Yorker Stephanie Black, LD is a gripping, socially disturbing look at the economic challenges faced by developing countries such as Jamaica.
The film graphically displays the adverse relationship of powerful countries like the United States and Great Britain who are fronted by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, and smaller countries which are sooner or later, forced into the IMF’s And World Bank’s clutches.
It examines the concepts of the once heralded globalization, and the forced liberalization policies destroyed rather than improved Jamaica’s growth. And it examines the methodology of USAID and how it is of no aid to poor countries at all.
This documentary is a must for all who are interested in how economics policies can play out on countries that are forced to accept the harsh judgement of the world funding agencies. It should be a must for all Jamaicans abroad, especially those who make judgments based on vastly inadequate information, and thus still fail to understand the realities of the country of their birth… especially with Jamaica’s current position with the IMF.
My #1 film is the 1972 “Harder They Come” starring Jimmy Cliff as the ‘country boy come to town’, hoping to sing his way to wealth, but instead finds himself exploited, corrupted and eventually killed.htc.jpg
The film is also about the socio-economic principles that dominate a substantial part of Jamaica, about the economic streamlining of an exploitative society, and how integrally entwined are the forces that line up against the poor… the politicians, the church, the police and the wealthy.
Featuring a powerful soundtrack, the film served as one of the ways reggae mainstreamed into white America, but it also gave studied insight into how music rose up in the ghetto, the economic importance of ganja to struggling communities, the upper-class control of the weed and the use of the police force to keep the growers, transporters and other small people in line.
I can easily admit that whenever I watch “Harder They Come” (HTC) ‘wata come a me eyes’… tears of joy (reminiscing), tears of anger and sadness born of frustration, and tears of joy again, reveling in the talent of the Jamaican people.
Watching the musical recently in Miami, all these emotions again overtook me. Though a bit different than the movie, the stage musical nevertheless remains powerful, emotional, current and vastly entertaining.
It is another notch in Jamaica’s belt, in that the musical is a huge success in London and apparently played very well in Toronto. Why then it can be asked, that it appears that so far it has gotten nothing more than a lukewarm response in South Florida?
Before going into that, one should be appraised of a little bit of background. The Arsht Center in downtown Miami is hosting the musical, and I have been told that it the Center’s first reach-out to the Caribbean population. Take this how you wish. There are cynics and there are many who are willing to grasp the opportunity seeing it as the Caribbean finally coming of age.
The latter is important. If this is indeed a genuine approach by the Center, then failure is a poor option. Failure would certainly be a setback for the Caribbean performing arts and for the Caribbean itself. And since it’s a Jamaican-influenced production, then the failure would also be owned by the Jamaican population here in SoFla.
In trying to make the production a success, the Jamaican political leaders in the community have given much support, as have some of the usual suspects like Air Jamaica. But apparently, not much ground has been gained.
It has come to my ears that though failure may be laid at our feet, there are in fact many people and their flawed thinking who are also culpable. There are obvious questions, the first being that someone over-calculated by scheduling 16 performances. The second flaw is that the show was first targeted to the Caribbean community, particularly Jamaicans. That is a serious overestimation of Florida-based Jamaicans support for the arts.
At the performance I saw, several ‘whites’ were enjoying the show thoroughly, singing along with most of the popular tunes. It is obvious that the movie and the music still resonate with the non-Jamaica, American population. Were they have properly targeted from the beginning? My source tells me no.
As to the other part, it also appeared that people with knowledge and skills of the Caribbean community were brought in late to the marketing, and that the original marketing was based on faulty generalizations about the Caribbean people. Another issue was the ticket prices, but the truth is I only accept that reality partially… there is more than enough money in the community, recession or no recession.
But the principal question we must ask ourselves, is why is it that many of us shy away from cultural productions, even high quality ones? I can understand the cynicism based on the fact that we have wasted many a dollar on poor-quality ‘Jamaican productions’ so we only go for a minute sampling of our cultural breadth.
But the “Harder They Come” certainly cannot be qualified as dubious, so what is going on amongst us that we fail to support a venture that is so clearly a legitimate and high quality production, which also clearly has brought positive kudos to our island?
I know some of the easier marketing and production issues will have people better able to address them than I can, but I’m not sure anyone has the magic answer to the main issue of getting Caribbean people out to support entertainment outside of a small circle like jerkfest, carnival, Unifest, Unite-a-fest, dancehall, or a select few reggae artistes. Perhaps readers might want to offer their ideas and possible solutions, especially pertaining to something like the “Harder They Come”.
I do know that a certain level of insularity is involved and that it is difficult to get many African-Americans, Barbadians or Trinidadians to anything that in any sense reflects the exaltation of Jamaica. That is something we should have gotten over a long time ago, though we Jamaicans are also at fault by not attending ‘their’ events and by rubbing our worldwide exploits in their faces. That such jingoism still exists is sad.
But with all that said, the “Harder They Come” is something I would recommend to anyone. Though I’m not really one to be a shill for something like this… after all the Arsht Center has a sizable marketing budget… I certainly can make an exception. One, because it is important for future Caribbean performing arts ventures with the Arsht Center, and secondly, because the production really is damn good.

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