- Bad Friday: Rastafari After Coral Gardens dir. by Deborah A. Thomas, John L. Jackson Jr.
Bad Friday strongly demonstrates that the Coral Gardens incident during the first year of Jamaican independence is, as we hear in the film, “a very long story.”
Directed by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, and with an original score by Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn, the film is powerful and effective on many levels. The documentary was the idea of its subjects, Rasta elders who survived the aftermath of the 1963 incident, and who suggested to the anthropologist Deborah Thomas that they tell their story on video. Knowledge and reasoning is prized in the Rasta community, and injustice is cleansed by speaking its name with fire. [End Page 279]
The documentary is itself a cultural event, helping to communicate the history of the elders to a new generation of Rasta and to a global audience. Film screenings around the world have been accompanied by drumming, music, and discussion. The film premiered in Jamaica at the Bob Marley Museum and was screened at the Annual Coral Gardens Commemoration in 2012. The Rasta community of the Coral Gardens Committee shares in the intellectual property of the film, and all proceeds go to the committee, to help support the elders.
The title indicates that the film is about the wider context of “the incident.” It is possible, even probable, that one will watch the documentary and still not know exactly what happened at Coral Gardens on April 11, 1963. What viewers do understand, through direct testimonial, is that afterward Prime Minister Bustamante ordered all Rasta to be hunted down and brought in dead or alive. Most victims did not even know what had happened in Coral Gardens earlier that day, and were prevented from communicating with one another in prison. Many were tortured and killed and never even made it to prison.
Bad Friday was shot on location in Jamaica with DV, mini-DV, and HD technology. It does not devote any screen time to analysis by experts; the people speak with authority. The text is multilayered, with music, voices, scenes of interviews, archival footage, and reproductions of still photos. A striking photo shows a group of Rasta with a sign reading “Marcus Garvey is a living man.” The film and website also feature a paper collage called “Fire Is the Light of Struggle” (Theodore A. Harris, 2011).
Instead of putting events and witnesses on trial, the film provides complex backstories, dating back to around 1951, when a “rascal disguised as Rasta,” a bearded man, assaulted a couple on the beach, unleashing police violence upon anyone with a beard. As the film fills in more context, the 1963 incident is presented as the story of “the brother who had a problem with Babylon.” Independence in 1962 had intensified Jamaica’s plans to develop areas for tourism. The new nation’s slogan, “Out of Many, One People,” was not to include Rasta, who were identified as dangerous enemies.
Even before independence, the police were violent toward the Rasta community. The film includes an interview with a retired police detective who was on duty during the incident. He describes the rifles being handed out. And he remembers other incidents that almost made him cry, having been raised in the countryside, such as the time when he had orders to destroy beautiful crops because Rasta were squatting on the land.
With all the attention to Jamaica and Rasta culture generated through the music industry, a film like this is essential to ground us in Rastas’ voice and foundation. We can understand that people are still fighting for reparations, that dreadlocks and a beard constituted a declaration of war, and that the elders have mentally repatriated themselves to the Jamaican bush from which they now speak. In these realities, Rasta, the New World’s only indigenous religion and culture, continues to develop, having now evolved into a global movement of all races and classes. [End Page 280...