Top 7 Jamaican Films (That Are Not “The Harder They Come”)
Written by Curtis John
So we know that the 1973 hit film THE HARDER THEY COME deservedly gets the best nod as the best Jamaican film of all time. With its aesthetic originality and realistic portrayals, Harder established common tropes seen in future Jamaican and Jamaican-inspired films like a reggae/music star as the lead, good-boy turned gangster/freedom fighter vibe, lush landscapes set against rough urban areas, and more. While our seventh pick and the newest Caribbean Film Series selection BETTER MUS’ COME, and many of the films on this list, have some of that, we decided to go against the grain and establish a list key in the ‘genre’ but also with a mix of the even more original stances and the diaspora thrown in.
SMILE ORANGE (1976)
Based on a stage play by legendary writer/director Trevor Rhone, “Smile Orange” still stands as one of the most hilarious Jamaican (and otherwise) comedies of all time. Starring Carl Bradshaw in his career-defining role as con-man waiter Ringo, this satirical look at the Jamaican tourist industry is told through the eyes of Jamaican hotel workers. When you watch it, also pay attention to Glen Morrison as the memorable Cyril The BusBoy.
Trevor Laird (“Quadrophenia” – 1979) and Brinsley Forde of reggae band Aswad star in this film about the week in the life of a crew of a British reggae sound system. Its focus on the lives of Jamaican/Afro-Caribbean youth communities in London revealed a virtually unseen community.
MILK AND HONEY (1988)
Another diaspora film, this one with a screenplay from legendary Jamaican playwright Trevor Rhone, “Milk And Honey” stars Josette Simon (“Cry Freedom” – 1985) as Joanna ‘Jo’ Bell, a female Jamaican migrant worker that leaves her son in Jamaica to find work as a maid in Canada. However, once she arrives, she discovers she’s more indentured servant than maid, only earning about $20 a week. As the months turn into years in a cold, strange country, she realizes a change must come. Another now legendary figure, actress Leonie Forbes, co-stars as fellow ‘maid’ Miss Emma. Out of print, you can see the movie in its entirety on YouTube.
Talented but unemployed drummer Horsemouth sets himself up in business selling records, but when local mafia gangsters steal his motorbike things start to turn nasty. Finally reaching a breaking point, he and friends plot to end the gangsters’ reign of terror and restore justice to the people of Kingston. The famous cast of characters, featuring appearances from Gregory Isaacs, Jacob Miller and Inner Circle, and Burning Spear, and the music within makes “Rockers” a modern classic.
DANCEHALL QUEEN (1997)
Infectiously vibrant and colorful as it is rough, the Cinderella-type tale of street vendor and single mom Marcia (Audrey Reid) gave a then modern light to the struggle of Jamaican women. With her livelihood constantly threatened, Marcia disguises herself for a dance contest series to pit her two enemies against each other.
THE PRICE OF MEMORY (2014)
In the ultimate turn of Jamaican-bravado and bad-assery, a small group of Rastafari petition Queen Elizabeth II for slavery reparations, while she visits Jamaica for her Golden Jubilee Celebrations. Karen Marks Mafundikwa’s documentary (the only doc on this list) follows the petition and a reparations lawsuit, while exploring the enduring legacies of slavery in Jamaica.