‘One love’ – Jamaica’s foremost social mantra and a phrase populated around the world by Bob Marley. The phrase expresses with simplicity the values of universal love & respect for all people. However, as Selena Blake’s raw and direct documentary Taboo Yardies argues, the mantra doesn’t count in Jamaica if you are gay.
Homosexuality in Jamaica is an almost unbearable taboo for the general public. For those who are gay themselves, it is virtually imperative that they should hide their sexual orientation or risk social exclusion, beatings and even corrective rape. Blake highlights this bitter reality using first hand (and often harrowing) testimonials, video footage of beatings and interviews with experts and authorities including psychologists and Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding.
While the film’s construction is crude and basic (an awkward frame, or a Rode microphone placed in shot), Blake delves deep into the issue exploring the problems of homophobia at multiple levels. As well as presenting evidence of severe homophobia, she looks to possible causes of homophobia in Jamaican culture. Taboo Yardies explores how lack of education, dogmatic religious attitudes and the state contribute to fostering a culture of homophobia.
The vast range of footage that Blake assembles is almost overwhelming, but highly reveling. Blake interviews one woman (face blurred), who recounts having been ostracised by everyone including her own mother and sexually assaulted by men in her community. The interview is particularly harrowing, as the contributor can be seen flicking an elastic band against her fingers throughout: an easily accessible method of self-harm. Blake moves the camera towards her arms where we can see numerous slash marks from razor blades and she admits that she has attempted suicide several times.
In contrast the comments made by Prime Minister Bruce Golding are out of touch with the reality of suffering from homophobia. Golding talks extensively to Blake and considers the “philosophical argument” of personal freedom, but returns ultimately to rhetoric relating homophobia to pedophilia and bestiality. Golding’s outlook is unwaveringly conservative and this is an attitude that Blake also attributes to the government following his departure from office.
At its heart Taboo Yardies highlights the disconnect between human rights and the religious rooted institutional view of morality in Jamaica. If the government truly understood the impact of homophobia on the lives of people such as the woman with the elastic band, then perhaps they would think differently about how to deal with the issue. While Taboo Yardies is a rough and imperfect piece of filmmaking, it could be a real instrument for social change.