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Filmmaker Stephanie Black on “Life and Debt”

Posted by on Thursday, November 6, 2014 in Anthropology 101 Course Notes.

Stephanie Black

These pieces about Stephanie Black’s 2001 film provide more context about the director, the film, and her artistic and political intentions.

Speaking to Fuchs about her motivations for portraying tourism in the film, Black explained:

The genesis of the film came in the 1990s, when I spent time in Jamaica. Every day in the Jamaican Gleaner, the national newspaper, there were front page stories about some payment that wasn’t being released because Jamaica didn’t devalue rapidly enough or privatize quickly enough, or do drug-trafficking to the satisfaction of the United States. And these stories were repeated again and again. I was in shock because I had thought the IMF was something like the Red Cross. I didn’t think they were that controlling, that they would have that kind of impact on the day-to-day running of the country. So I wondered how much autonomy the country had, if the outside forces had such influence on the really important policy-making. As I began to speak to people, and as is articulated in the film, everyone knows what’s going on, in all classes, and yet, I, as a decently educated American, had no idea that this was going on. And that’s how the tourist came to be — I wanted to ask why I had no idea what was happening. The tourist is a metaphor for privilege and lack of understanding. Jamaica needs to reinvent itself to meet the needs of the visitors. Consider the case of dance lessons: it could be that once, you visited a country and would go to a little bar and see people dance, and try out the new moves yourself; now, it’s all contained in a little area, and spoon-fed in a soulless way.

But at the same time, [the use of the tourists] is not just a criticism; I’m not just making fun of the Americans. I identify with them. I felt that there’s a certain victimization in lack of knowledge, that I myself am part of. So the tourists are a metaphor for the lack of understanding, of our own policies, imposed in our name. I spoke to Jamaicans who work in hotels about the most absurd questions they get. And there were people would come to the island and   not even know they were in a foreign country. Very often, the first question they would get is, “Where’s the McDonald’s?” And along with that, there’s the adaptation of the Jamaica Kincaid text (A Small Place, written in 1987 about Kincaid’s own home, Antigua), and she uses a very militant, passionate voice to describe a postcolonial consciousness. I was interested, now that we’ve all accepted that colonization is wrong, to apply her postcolonial text to a neocolonial situation, and see how accurate it remains.

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