Tanya Hamilton’s “Good Country People”
Last week I attended a showing of three short films directed by women: Good Country People, Not Another Word (funny and not at all unique to the Jordanian experience it depicts), and Half of Her (about the traditions we carry with us when we leave “home”…it’s really hard to watch and it may surprise you to know that this is set in Chinatown, New York City). Each short explored issues that women deal with from that woman’s perspective. Good Country People is set in Jamaica on Election Day 2011. It was written and directed by Jamaican-born filmmaker and writer, Tanya Hamilton. The short, part of the Women and Girls Lead Campaign “Through Her Lens” collection, follows a day-in-the life of a female taxi driver, Blossom, and how she juggles the male-dominated field as well as the demands of her husband and family.
I like Blossom. I was most struck though by the treatment of the young men in the film. First Blossom refuses to take on a passenger: “no young bway innah har cyar” then we see young men “guarding” a public road into a community yet in between we see her joking with an adolescent boy. When do they become so dangerous? Curiously none of the older people she takes on as passengers utters a word of protest or urging in favour of the young male passenger.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the “young bwoy” who was initially denied entry into Blossom’s taxi because it’s a live issue in Jamaican and other societies. I’ve seen that refusal while in Jamaica: route taxis not taking on any young men or taxi dispatchers asking for details about who is being picked up and declining if there’s a guy in the party. Related is that taxis will not go to certain neighbourhoods once it’s dark or after a certain time. And it’s not just Jamaica; in the U.S. taxis routinely decline to pick up young black men assuming that they’re leading them into some kind of trap or will rob them on the way. Well-dressed be damned. Van drivers in New York City will not allow men of a certain age to sit in the front seat; that spot is usually reserved for women, young and old. I expect it may be the same for other minority young men, Middle Eastern and South Asian particularly.
I wonder what it means for us Jamaicans that we seem to have, somehow, condemned or criminalized an entire generation (or two?) of our young black men. When did we choose this? That’s a significant portion of the population from which we reflexively expect such violence that we give them no chance to prove us wrong. Have we created a self-fulfilling prophecy by being “careful”? Is it fair? Can we afford this choice?