Celebrating 50 Years of The Harder They Come


The Harder They Come,  the
classic, cult movie turns 50 this year. Thus far no other movie about Jamaica
has had such acclaim.  The soundtrack
put reggae on the international map. I was a teenager, and like all Jamaicans,
were thrilled and proud of its debut. Many of us girls also developed crushes
on Jimmy Cliff, and maybe even on  Ivan,
the character that he portrayed.

The Harder They Come resonated with me on so many levels, from the sighting
of the country bus to Pedro at the beach with his sick son, to Elisa torn
between her love for Ivan and her sympathy for the community. For the first
time, I was seeing my home on the screen, whereas before all the images were foreign,
and given to us, now we were giving ourselves to the world, to say to the world,
look at me –I’m somebody too,  worthy of
attention – in short, my life and struggles matter. That was a pivotal identify
shift moment for me and for many. Something happens to you, to how you see
yourself, how you feel, when your life is now enlarged and being shown for all
to see, to bear witness.

The character Ivan was living out and livng through the lives of the cowboy
movies he watched, and now his fellow sufferers, fellow Jamaicans, were living their
lives through him, seeing themselves objecting to and defying the system that has
been crushing them. What a moment!  What
a revolution!  What an awakening Perry
Henzel and Trevor Rhone, co-writers, allowed for.

 As I viewed the movie again I
see that it is still relevant and applicable to today’s reality, and very little
has changed for the masses in the inner-city and rural areas.

However, speaking with several musicians, they suggest that the industry has
changed. There are more opportunities and less exploitation, although many
local musicians who haven’t crossed over or had major success still feel there
is still a lot of exploitation in the industry. But what is undisputable is
that Reggae music is a global phenomenon.

So when Justin Henzel, Perry’s daughter asked me to write a poem for the 50th
celebration, I was honored, and honored too to be included in the exhibition of poems and art, curated to commemorate the 50th anniversary. Below
is the poem I wrote, focusing on Ivan’s portrayal, not as the hero as he was depicted,
but as an anti-hero.

Ivan –An Anti-Hero

Opal Palmer Adisa



he was walking towards a dream

from a landless past

and a stolen mango

entered a space

where almost every man

was for himself

dictated by sufferation

and no mirror in which

to see themselves

and seh is we dis


a place where

if yu black and uneducated

and beg a brown man fah

a chance fi play music yu salt

was a place where the privileged

joyfully exploited de likkle man

where the desire to be known

is worse than mosquitoes

buzzing in your ear and

biting your legs

and where foreign images

warp yu brain so yu tek

on another man’s identity like

a jacket


but it can’t really wuk fah yu

cause de preacher collide wid de gun men

who kill yu blood claat dream

just like dem piss in de gully


yes yu can get it

but can yu keep it?

yes yu can try

but will yu live long enough

fi enjoy it?

will yu oman ovastand

and stick by yu?

will yu brethren with

empty pockets and not

even a can mackerel

keep ifendin yu?

or will the system

like newspapers piled high

chop yu down?


oh ivan

what is a dream recycled

rather than nurtured

from the soil and trench town

of your life?

how can your dream grow

you wings to rise above

the shoot-out death scene

where nothing changes?


what is it you get

what is it you leave us with

more than a song plaited

with platitudes


we’ve been praying

we’ve been toiling

and we really try…

to keep the dream

riding the waves

You can hear me read the poem here:






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