Lennie Little-White | Heroes of the creative industries
Tomorrow, when the National Awards are presented at King's House, the star of the show will be Harry Belafonte, a creative artist that has burnished the Jamaican brand for generations. This recognition in his adopted home-state is well deserved and has been too long in coming. Jamaica has been his 'Island in the Sun' while carrying green bananas on his well-hewn shoulders. "Day deh light - is time di tallyman come home".
I have always believed that we must 'big up' and celebrate those among us who have helped to nurture the creative arts. Many years ago, when Mediamix, my own film production house, reached 25 years in the film production business, we did not approach The Gleaner to do a supplement full of self-praise. Instead, we chose to use the occasion to honour those who had brought fame and recognition to Jamaica by their sterling work in the film industry.
That was the birth of the biannual Mediamix Doctor Bird Awards in Film and Television (MDBA (c) 1998), which celebrated the work of legends before and behind the camera.
A few of those who were recognised at the glitzy red-carpet Hollywood-style ceremony in a New Kingston hotel were Jimmy Cliff, Perry Henzell, Chris Blackwell, Carey Robinson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Leonie Forbes, Trevor Rhone, Wycliffe Bennett, Lloyd Reckord, to name a few.
After years of plenty, the very expensive MDBA took a well-deserved hiatus because of economic constraints. Despite my semi-retirement, I continue to be bombarded by creative- industry players to have a rebirth of the awards as a tribute to the nascent film and television industry.
The National Honour to Harry Belafonte reminds me that his creative work straddled music, acting, writing, producing - and even a little dancing. Fully conscious of this panoply of his work in the creative arts, I have decided to resurrect the MDBA with a broader umbrella than just the film industry. Instead, the MDBA will now honour a range of persons who have become beacons of light in the creative industries.
Those of us who are still alive stand on the shoulders of some who were the foundation of what we celebrate and practise today. So the refurbished MDBA - in one fell swoop - will honour the dead and the living in nine different categories - each named after icons who have long transitioned to a happier resting place.
The actual awardees will be named in my next column come November.
Music: Named in honour of Duke Reid and Clement 'Coxsone' Dodd who were two of the creative cornerstones of Jamaica's popular music which became known as ska. While riding on different highways, these two men laid the foundation for an industry that now spans international boundaries.
Dance: Very little has to be said to justify the naming of this category after the Honourable Professor Rex Nettleford. The National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC) is a milepost that has shown the way to a plethora of indigenous dance companies that have followed in the footsteps of the man many respectfully call 'Rex'.
Fine Arts: The contenders for the naming of this honour are many, and there will never be consensus about who is the most iconic. In the sixties, one of the persons who were shaping the lives of a new generation of fine artists at the School of Art was Barrington Watson, whose own works on canvas were becoming legendary - even way back then. The award will bear the name of Professor Barrington Watson.
Architecture: Is not generally considered by many in Jamaica to be an integral part of the creative industries. The New Kingston skyline owes a lot of its profile to the architectural artistry of Denny Repole, whose styling was the forerunner for what we take for granted today.
Theatre: Earns its place because some say we are always acting - on the stage and in Parliament.
Today, theatre provides employment for many Jamaicans who now earn their living from theatre at home and abroad.
The shadow of Wycliffe Bennett looms large as the quintessential theatre doyen whose creativity stretched from stage to the greenfields of the National Stadium.
The Written Word: Jamaicans are natural storytellers, with Brer Anancy and Bredda Takuma as bookends for those of us who sprang from the belly of rural Jamaica. While many of us grew up trying to copy Shakespeare, Keats, and Chaucer, there is one person who never followed them in lock-step but defied the uptown veranda snobs by creating a pantheon of Jamaican literature - "Howdy and Tenkey' Louise Bennett-Coverley, better known as 'Miss Lou'.
Motion Pictures: The MDBA was conceptualised and devoted to those who excelled in the film industry. Because this new sectoral award is named in honour of those who have made their transition, it is quite easy to name it after Perry Henzell, whose The Harder They Come still remains the iconic landmark of our movie industry.
Fashion: The nomenclature 'Fashion' is a natural progression for those of us who grew up only knowing about dressmakers and tailors. This global industry has spawned our own fashionistas who now celebrate our couturiers and bespoke tailors. I have always heard the name Francis Keane as the doyenne of high fashion. So, she has this honour named after her sewn up.
Special 'Pan Media': Is an all-encompassing category that embraces advertising, photography, and new avenues of social media while exploiting the vast horizons of the digital age. Advertising has always been integral to marketing and branding of local industry. The legendary Reggie Carter was at the apex of advertising creativity long before the onslaught of the emerging digital smorgasbord.
So, come November, the Mediamix Doctor Bird Awards will be back to honour nine living practitioners in the creative industries.
- Lennie Little-White, CD, MA, is a Jamaican filmmaker and writer. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and lennielittle.white