Director: Kareem Mortimer
Country: The Bahamas
From what I’ve seen so far in this challenge, the films produced by tiny countries seem to fall into one of two categories: lighthearted, straightforward genre films with local twists, aimed at domestic audiences, or else heavy dramas concerned with social issues, aimed more at international festivals. The first two films from the Caribbean that I watched, from Antigua and Aruba respectively, were both examples of the former. Now, bucking the trend, I’ve chosen Kareem Mortimer’s feature debut Children of God to represent The Bahamas.
The film examines attitudes towards homosexuality in Bahamian society through the relationship between its two male protagonists, Jonny and (sigh) Romeo. This is groundbreaking stuff for a country where LGBT rights are still highly contested, and which had actually banned the film Brokeback Mountain upon its release four years earlier. Interestingly, Mortimer uses archival news footage in Children of God showing several real Bahamian preachers and public figures decrying homosexuality. This was no doubt intended to add a sense of authenticity and documentary realism, but the irony is that such strong opponents of gay rights are often so rabid and over-the-top that they are actually less believable than an actor.
The film’s story concerns Jonny – a shy, insecure, aspiring painter studying in Nassau, the capital of The Bahamas. Struggling with his art and his sense of identity, Jonny moves to the laid-back, outlying island of Eleuthera in search of inspiration.
Instead, he finds Romeo: a confident, handsome local who takes an immediate interest in Jonny. Romeo has a girlfriend, but the two men swiftly begin a secret relationship. The film explores the feelings of guilt and confusion that both men feel, and the discrimination and alienation that they both face from their friends and family. And in my view, it does so quite effectively. The performances are believable, particularly Stephen Tyrone Williams (Romeo), whose role is doubly difficult since his character has two distinct personalities that he must bring across at different times.
Despite its best efforts, Children of God falls into some disappointing stereotypes. The ending, in particular, reinforces some unfortunate entrenched roles that gay characters have always filled in cinema. It’s hard to fault Children of God for this, however, since it’s well put together and its heart is in the right place. It’s always interesting to see films that give voices to people who haven’t always had the ability to tell their stories, so I’ll recommend Children of God just as highly as the previous two Caribbean films on this blog.