Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Nick Cannon's "King of the Dancehall" Movie at TIFF

It ain't Shottas. It ain't Dancehall Queen, and it ain't The Harder They Come. Slightly closer to Belly, and very far from Cool Runnings. That being said, writer/director/producer Nick Cannon went hard with his movie King of the Dancehall, released on September 11 at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). No: he doesn't speak with a Jamaican accent (phew!), and yes: the movie is thoroughly entertaining. This film was definitely electric and definitely gave viewers an inside look at Jamaica and the world of dancehall music and movement.

I will give Nick Cannon credit where credit is due: this is a good movie. And it's funny! In fact, just minutes into the movie I was wide-eyed and excited to hear dancehall music through the speakers of the Scotiabank Theatres in downtown Toronto. I was pleased to see images of Jamaica, beautifully arranged, and I was thankful that the 35-year-old American superstar took the time to visit, study, and communicate the wonderfulness of Jamaican music and culture, and share it with a wide audience. What's better than seeing the people and hearing the sounds that you love on the big screen?

For that reason alone, you should see this movie. If you love Jamaica, if you love Caribbean culture, and if you love dancehall and dancing, then you will definitely appreciate the respect and dedication that was given to telling this story. "Bless up" to Nick Cannon for taking the time to explain dancehall culture through narration from dancehall legend Beenie Man and through the voice of Nick's on-screen character "Tarzan Brixton." Kudos for Nick's commitment to explaining the history and significance of the elements of reggae music and the people that nurture it.

From the start, Tarzan explains how the moves that pop artists like Rihanna and Beyonce perform regularly for millions of adoring fans and emulators, have originated in the Jamaican dancehalls. He explains the significance of the performance, with a brief history of the island. And through the eyes of the American character Tarzan, after doing five years in prison, the viewers are introduced to the dancehall scene and journey to understand it along with him.

We've heard this story before, but it was still interesting to journey through the situation with the characters. A young convict trying to do right by his family. A hot dancer hoping to battle the current champion for respect and bragging rights. A drug dealer making a few smart moves and running the scene as a result. A bad boy falling for the good girl, and being seduced by a sexy temptress. Family drama. Judgmental and protective fathers. Slightly predictable, but still enjoyable, the plot moved nicely for the first half of the film...got a little strange towards the end, and concluded with a musical showcase featuring cameos from Beenie Man himself, T.O.K., Diva Nikki Z, Sean Paul, Richie Stephens, and of course plenty of dancing.

The ending...meh.

The joy of viewing this film didn't particularly come from a gripping plot with unexpected turns and clever epiphanies, but instead from the vibrancy of the music, the party scenes, the authentic look at the Jamaican landscape, and the overall vibes. Women wining. Men strutting. Motorcycles. Waterfalls. Sexy bodies. Romance. A couple jokes. But essentially, the dancing is what makes this film so captivating.

It was cool to see Whoopi Goldberg in the film, as Tarzan's mother in the U.S. (although somehow while her Jamaican sister spoke 110% full patois, Whoopi as "Loretta" was a straight Yankee). Always a treat to see Busta Rhymes on screen with a very convincing Jamaican persona. Collie Buddz was great, as the boss man "Dada," and Ky-Mani Marley had a small role in it as well. Familiar faces added some weight to the movie, even with Louis Gossett Jr. as "The Bishop." Side note: I was slightly confused with The Bishop's attempt at a Ghanian accent, but appreciated his appearance nonetheless.

My favourite character was Kimberly Patterson who played Tarzan's love interest "Maya." A beautiful dark-skinned sister with gorgeous locs and natural talent, it was fantastic to see her as the leading lady--it made for great scenes of nubian skin and sensual dancing, seeing her lead the American Tarzan's body into the movements and swagger of the Jamaicans.

Nick Cannon can move...I'll give him that. He really got into it. I appreciate the man he has become, the intellect expressed in his interviews and commentaries, and his success as a rapper/comedian/filmmaker/television personality/all-around entertainment guru. And while he used to linger in the "Nickelodeon"/corny dude category...this movie has definitely placed him in a grown-and-sexy-brother lane, as he bumped and grinded his way into dancehall stardom. I don't doubt that he'll be frequenting Jamaica often, after this experience.

Despite a few small shortcomings and a few "WTF?" scenes towards the end, it is clear that Nick Cannon has the utmost respect for the Jamaican people and culture. I recognize this contribution he has made to the ever-growing list of Jamaican films. I love that he chose Toronto for King of the Dancehall's debut, that he featured the talented and beautiful Canadian pop-singer-turned-dancehall-queen Kreesha Turner (as Kaydeen the bad gyal dancer), as well as hearing "Finch and Jane" ringing out through Vybz Kartel's "Money on My Brain" on the loud speakers along with other dancehall classics. These personal touches made it a great viewing experience for me...I hope that others outside of the culture and with lesser understanding of the elements of this story can still commend him for this "outsider's look" at the dancehall culture. By nature, it is something to behold.


Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.

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