Sat | Feb 17, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | Is Jamaica ready for Grace Jones?

Published:Sunday | January 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica's superstar model, actress, singer and songwriter is here for the local premiere of the documentary film, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami. I'm tempted to say cloth instead of light. Spectacularly irreverent, Jones provokes the kind of response that can only be expressed with a big, phat Jamaican 'bad' word.

Bloodlight is the red light that comes on when a recording is being made in studio. Bami is the 'prapa-prapa' spelling of bammy. The subtitle of the film evokes two aspects of Jones' life: her performance as a spellbinding recording artiste and the simple pleasures she enjoys as a homegrown Jamaican.

Erotically androgynous, Jones is in complete control of her image. She unveils, and still manages to conceal, her many faces in the brilliant documentary. Directed by Sophie Fiennes, the film splices Jones' musical performances with intimate footage that reveals the complexity of the pop icon's fascinating life.

From her early years in Jamaica to her eruption as a sensational model on the world stage, the film documents Grace Jones' commanding presence as she plays many roles: daughter, mother, grandmother, sister and lover. And she revels in the conflicting emotions she stirs up.

 

NO APOLOGIES

 

In 2015, her autobiography, as told to Paul Morley, was published with the contradictory title, Grace Jones: I'll Never Write My Memoirs. She makes no apologies for changing her mind: "I once wrote and sang, 'I'll never write my memoirs.' I meant it at the time. I could have meant it forever, but it seems I've broken my own promise - turns out, for some things, there is no such thing as forever. I should never make promises to myself."

It's a really good thing Grace Jones broke her promise. Like the documentary film, the autobiography is a fan's paradise. The opening sentences are classic Jones: "When I told my son Paulo I was writing a book, he said, 'Oh, Mom, wow - I hope the world is ready for that. When I told my family and friends I was writing a book, some of them got very anxious and freaked out. They wondered what on earth I was going to reveal. In spirit, I think most of my family knows what is coming. They are used to it. It's not as if the story of my life is going to be a surprise to them."

 

VOICE OF A WOMAN

 

The Jamaica premiere of the Grace Jones film is the lead event of the Voice of Woman Festival (VOW) produced by Maureen Bryan, a visionary filmmaker who was born in the UK to Jamaican parents. The festival has been staged in London, New York and Cannes over the last nine years.

VOW has hosted talks by women of distinction such as Germaine Greer; and mounted photographic exhibitions in partnership with Getty Images, The Associated Press, Amnesty International and The New York Times. Maureen Bryan conceived the festival as a forum for "creative disrupters" who inventively engage in imaginative work from a decidedly female perspective.

Following screenings in London and Toronto, the Jamaica premiere of Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami took place yesterday in Kingston at Carib 5. Today, the film will be screened again at the Cove Cinema in Ocho Rios at 5 p.m. Following the screening, Ms Jones will engage in conversation with me.

From 10 to 2:40 today, there will be a film festival in Ocho Rios at the Cove Cinema, featuring work by Allison Harris,Toni Blackford, Danielle Russell, Danae Grandison, Michelle Serieux, Gabrielle Blackwood, Amanda Sans Pantling and Makeda Solomon. Activist filmmaker Dr Esther Figueroa will engage in conversation with Laura Facey Cooper, who is featured in the film Paddlin' Spirit.

 

"DADDY DON'T TOUCH ME THERE"

 

Immediately after the film festival, there will be a panel discussion on violence with psychologists Gillian Mason and Veronica Salter and educator Joyce Hewett. At 4 p.m., Queen Ifrica will speak on the issue of violence against women and children. Her heartbreaking song, Daddy Don't Touch Me There, is an anthem of resistance against the sexual abuse of girls:

"Everyday a wonder why ma daddy had to be di one

to take away my innocence

Oh, sometimes a wanna die feels

like no one cares for me and it's evident

That something must be wrong with me

I'm not as happy as I seem to be

The long showers I take don't wash away the memories

Why do I have to face these tragedies?"

There is no easy answer to the young girl's question. But she deserves a collective response. As a society, we must ensure that vulnerable children are protected. Proceeds of the Voice of a Woman Festival will support the work of Woman Inc. to end violence against women and girls in Jamaica. For tickets to all events, contact Eventbrite.

So is Jamaica ready for Grace Jones? We have a very bad habit of honouring our own only after they have received accolades abroad. A striking exception is our celebration of our athletes. Grace Jones is a global icon. I suppose we are ready to accept her.

- Carolyn Cooper is a consultant on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.