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
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?
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
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: