Wow. What a night. One of the hashtags of ttff13 is #hotter and I don’t think I truly appreciated that until the question-and-answer session of the much-anticipated world premiere of the movie God Loves the Fighter.
God Loves the Fighter is a film by Damian Marcano, a Trinidadian who grew up in Morvant. He moved to America at age 12 and tried out a few different fields before entering film. He began his filmmaking career with the short The Little Boy and the Ball (ttff/11). God Loves the Fighter is his first feature. Marcano now lives in and works out of Los Angeles.
The film, which was described by the trinidad+tobago film festival’s editorial director, Jonathan Ali, at the start of the Q&A session as a “game changer”, provoked a host of different reactions from the audience.
The film centres on the character of Charlie, played by Muhammad Muwakil, who grew up in the streets of Port of Spain. Like many other young men in his situation—father gone, mother dead—Charlie is poor and even though his ethics are important to him, he also needs to eat. Unenthusiastically, he approaches a childhood friend named Stone (played by Abdi Waithe) for a job. Stone, who is now “big in de dance”, offers him a job to run drugs with a taxi driver named Moses.
This “opportunity” leads Charlie to meet the drug lord and brothel owner, Putao (Darren Cheewah), as well as one of his streetwalkers, Dinah (Jaime Lee Phillips), who has her own troubles trying to help a child escape the brothel. King Curtis (Lou Lyons), a vagrant on the streets of Port of Spain, poetically narrates the entire story, announcing the truth about the county we live in, the truth that the media dare not tell.
God loves the Fighter is beautifully shot and one quickly feels intimately involved in the lives of the characters. This is actually quite a feat considering that these protagonists have lives that the majority of our country cannot truly conceive of. Granted, many people may feel slightly offended by that notion and also feel that know the reality of the situation, but simply ask yourself this: Have I ever put cocaine into a child’s mouth to calm her down in order to rescue said child from a pedophile in the brothel that I work at?
Marcano does an excellent job of humanising the gangsters and whores, letting the audience see that everyone has a story, that these peoples’ lives are not just words on a page that you read in the newspapers, and that not everyone has had the same privileges and ability to choose their path according to ethical paradigms.
During the Q&A session, an audience member asked Marcano if he considered race politics when filming the movie (the majority of the characters are black or of colour; Dinah, pointedly, is white). Marcano responded that he did not. Muwakil shared that he also had a similar concern in the beginning but was assuaged when Marcano simply asked him if this particular situation could happen. The answer was yes.
So let’s break it down: Dinah is white and the child in the brothel is also white. The pedophile is an Indian man. Charlie is mixed. Putao is a Chindian (Chinese and Indian) and all of the other gangsters are black. The only ones who make it out alive are Dinah and the little girl.
The same audience member followed up with the question, “Why do the white people get saved?” It is indeed a very relevant question, for many reasons. From a race politics perspective, could it be that these archetypes are so ingrained in most of us, including Marcano, that his film followed what his subconscious already knew to be an indelible truth in our society? Or perhaps, after living outside of T&T for so long, he naturally assumes that these life situations can happen to anyone of any colour? Is his psyche trapped or liberated?
Either way, this question revealed how much we still struggle as a country with race and how much it bubbles under the surface of our daily interactions. Considering the melting pot we live in, each situation encountered connects us to complex cross-cultural interpretations of status and an inherent, absolutely exhausting metaphor that we carry on our backs every single day.
Another audience member attempted to compliment him on his ability to get Trinidadians to bare their skin on television and that perhaps it is due to the fact that he is an “international” filmmaker.
Marcano did not take kindly to this, insisting that he is not foreign and that that particular audience member, who was white, would never truly understand the story. This caused more uproar from the audience.
His point was echoed by a gentleman who said, “Only about five per cent of Trinidad will really understand this life. I come from the same area.”
As one audience member put it, “We live in a postmodern society, there are many truths.” Marcano’s film is a first for our country and deserves credit. If nothing else, it has done what all pieces of art do in order to gain their public validation: it has provoked. That in itself is a triumph and at this point in our society, the same conversations that had that Q&A on fire are the same conversations we need to continue to have in our homes, as well as on the streets of our country.
If you missed God Loves the Fighter at the world premiere, don’t worry—there are a few more screenings that you can attend:
Tue 24 Sept, 5.30pm, UWI, Q&A
Thur 26 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Sun 29 Sept, 8.00pm, MovieTowne Tobago
Tue 01 Oct, 6.00pm, MovieTowne PoS