Dancehall Queen is one of those movies that anybody drawn to Jamaica or living in Jamaica has seen at least once in their life. I’ve seen Dancehall Queen several times, and every time I notice something new. This weekend was no exception as I decided to watch Dancehall Queen again.
After watching Dancehall Queen this time, I believe it is the most complete movie to learn Jamaican Patois, Slang and day to day Jamaican Culture for most Jamaicans. Dancehall Queen is the story of a downtown Kingston street vendor named Marcia (played by Audrey Reid) who tries her luck at becoming the queen of a dancehall contest hosted by Beenie Man, the self-proclaimed King of The Dancehall. Marcia, is a single mother of two girls who does what she needs to do in order to make sure her daughters get the best education and life, but this becomes costly when her older daughter, Tania, a young teen is forced to sleep with Larry (played by Carl Davis). Larry is the economic support or sugar daddy of sorts who pays for Marcia’s children to go to uptown schools while Marcia is working the street stand with her brother, Junior (played by Mark Danvers). Once Tania tells Marcia that she does not want anything to do with Larry and she resents her mother’s dependency on Larry, Marcia begins to find alternative methods of making money. While Marcia is fine tuning her skills on the dance floor, her brother, Junior, spends his time hiding from Priest (played by Paul Campbell), the man who stabbed and killed his friend, and the police chief (played by Carl Bradshaw). Once Marcia learns that Larry and Priest are both no good, she devises a plan to make sure that neither of them ever hurt her family again while still competing to be the Dancehall Queen.
The great thing about Dancehall Queen is that film is comprised of Jamaican actors speaking in the language of Jamaica, Patois. There are very few instances of Standard English being spoken in the film. This is great for the student Jamaican Patois because key phrases are spoken in the appropriate contexts. One could really not ask for more because you are able to hear patois in all the main scenarios of life such as interacting with your parents, friends, the police, boyfriend/girlfriend and just strangers on the street. Additionally, Dancehall Queen is different from other Jamaican films in that there is no excessive gun violence. The movie contains comedy elements while still some of the truths and hardships of Jamaican life, especially for people of Downtown Kingston.
Besides the ability to learn an immense amount of Jamaican Patois, there are many aspects of Jamaican culture and life displayed in the movie. This movie focuses on the life of the day to day people as opposed to the police or “badman” contained in so many other Jamaican films. For example, in one scene Tania brings home an “uptown” boy from her school to her “downtown” home for her mother and sister to meet. At first her mother, Marcia, reacts strangely to his presence, but eventually she is accepting. This division between uptown and downtown is very prominent in Jamaican culture. Generally, uptown is home to the more financially privileged people while downtown is home to the less educated and less financially privileged. This is just one example of many culturally subtleties at work. You see the interaction of the Jamaican Country folk with the City dwellers of Kingston, the relationship between single mothers and men acting as father figures to their children and of course, you experience the dancehall culture.
The idea of a dancehall queen is something very common in Jamaica and now around the world. There are dancehall competitions all around the world. These competitions were inspired by the dancehall competitions of Jamaica. In fact, foreigners have gone to Jamaica and won dancehall competitions. Just like reggae, dancehalls and dancehall competitions are elements of Jamaican culture that have been exported to the world. The movie provides a good foundation into what the dancehall competitions are like, but should not be the last resource into learning this aspect of Jamaican culture.
In conclusion, Dancehall Queen is a positive film that highlights many aspects of Jamaican culture, but also teaches us to reach for the stars and just maybe are dreams will come true.