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Wild on BROWN-Skin Gyals

By Terry Joseph
July 04, 2003

Wild On Trinidad and Tobago, which twice aired last week on the E! Entertainment Channel, generated a series of thoroughly hysterical opinions, most reflecting an over- zealous brand of patriotism, some steeped in sheer paranoia; frighteningly few disturbed by fact.

The burden of widespread criticism was that viewers were left with the perception that white folks exclusively peopled this country. And it got worse. The E! producers had the temerity to ask Barbadian calypsonian Rupee to explain Jouvert.

Astonishingly, the skin-irritation caused by E! was unbelievably opposite to reaction triggered by a 1994 National Geographic documentary, one that highlighted an overwhelming percentage of inner-city black people portrayed in their accustomed habitat.

At the time, locals were equally vocal, caviling then about foreign producers who clearly hadn't seen (or deliberately omitted reference to) the Twin Towers or palatial homes in Goodwood Park and Fairways. "The made it look like we only have suffering black people in Trinidad and Tobago," complainers fumed.

Ironically, in the active case, Guardian entertainment editor Peter Ray Blood cheekily titled his brutal review: "Wild in Goodwood Park". Francesca Hawkins and Shael Gyan of Hott 93 FM (both names faithful to respective heritage) were quoted on the popular entertainment news website as saying: "It was not a balanced portrayal," Gyan going further to suggest: "If a National Geographic production was done it would have been more balanced."

For all the jabber, though, no one managed to explain precisely what is wrong with describing white locals as Trinidadian, an omission that must have rattled the thousands of light-skinned women who, if we do an honest assessment, may well comprise Carnival Tuesday's largest single identifiable bloc.

And their on-screen accents? Well, we do keep inviting foreigners to come for "The Greatest Show on Earth" and from touchdown, insist they play mas.

"You're missing half your life if you don't get a costume and jump-up in a band," we say, then wonder how they managed to be caught in the parade. Good thing they believed us, liked the experience, and were willing to go on the record.

In this hopefully unwitting demonstration of reverse discrimination, Lord forbid that we are inadvertently suggesting the involvement of brown-skin girls in calypso and Carnival should be limited to Lord Invader's proposition that they: "stay home and mind (the) baby!"

It was as if light-skinned people do not comprise a significant swath of the national mosaic or, more outrageously, that foreign television producers should engage in the arithmetical nonsense we so deceptively bosom; a continuing contrivance of equal numbers from each branch of our inheritance for every snapshot of Trinidad and Tobago.

Strangely enough, we never rush to conclude that the US comprises African-Americans exclusively after viewing music videos on Black Entertainment Television (BET), even though white faces and forms are seldom seen among the thousands of images that fly across the screen each day on that channel.

Now, the anti-Rupee sentiment is especially amusing, since his apparently objectionable endorsement of Trinidad Carnival was, quite coincidentally, being aired concurrently with television advertising for Carnival in his native country, Barbados; this year's Crop Over promotion prominently featuring Trinidadian Sean Gordon. Memories of calypsonian Brigo's "Do So Eh Like So?"

Evidently, the critics did not know that Rupee ranks among our most vocal promulgators of calypso music and the beauty of this country at Trini-style carnivals abroad; almost as intense about soca as American pan virtuoso Andy Narell is about the steeldrum and its birthplace.

Indeed, in their overall haste to hoist the flag, antagonists did not pause to check a few important details of the E! programme. For openers, much of it was shot since 1999, as part of a year-long account of the travels of the previous year's Miss Universe, Wendy Fitzwilliam; hardly your stereotypical brown-skin gyal.

So, not unlike last year's hurrah over the securing by two Americans of a patent to mass-produce steelpans through a particular process, or Warlord Blakie's revelations in the 1954 road march, "Steelband Clash", the startling "news" had long been etched into history by the time local reaction bubbled.

Busy trying to shore up parochial protest, no one thought of asking the invariably cordial Miss Fitzwilliam to date her Jouvert interview with E!

They would also have discovered that the resulting 1999 footage is, by contract, the property of E! for fully seven years and has been aired several times before, most effectively in complimentary comparison to Rio de Janeiro's competing carnival.

The Entertainment Channel focused on Carnival day presentations by Harts Ltd and Poison because that is where Miss Fitzwilliam was, so those who think the Tourism and Industrial Development Company (Tidco) should be pilloried for "allowing" the production to take the slant it did, now need to dispassionately reconsider their original postures.

And if local blacks appeared as "court jesters, winning fancy hat competitions with toilet bowls on their heads and, all the natives do is dance, drink a lot of alcohol, get drunk and have sex," then it seems to me that, sincere to its purpose, E! produced a fair representation of contemporary Trinidad Carnival.

What we would like to see should be the subject of a locally-generated promotional video, which is where, perhaps, Tidco should be playing the pro-active role, but to chastise a foreign crew for "disrespecting" our beautiful land and its people is as far from the present tense as the pristine Carnival.

Quite unfortunately, everyone now wishes to direct an already edited programme, suggesting locations, camera angles and production policy, declaring the final cut demeaning; as if it were all a production funded by taxpayers' money. Legends bandleader Ian McKenzie concedes that the crew visited The Mad Hatters Ball and Insomnia, two massive fetes thrown annually by black people, but laments: "They did not show the true essence of T&T's Carnival."

Perhaps more importantly, is the fact that they didn't make it up.

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