Cool It!

Former bobsledder weighs in on movie controversy

Observer writer

Monday, February 12, 2018

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CHRIS Stokes, president of the Jamaica Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation and a founding member of Jamaica's historic bobsled team, has weighed in on the controversial move by an American high school to ban the movie Cool Runnings due to perceived racial stereotypes.

The Disney 1993 hit movie is based on the appearance of the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada.

“Democracy, debate and choice are alive and well. It's good to see students making their own assessments and being in a position to exercise choices outside of those spoon-fed to them and decided on their behalf,” he told the Jamaica Observer.

Stokes, alongside his older brother Dudley Stokes, Devon Harris, and Michael White (alternates Freddie “Reggae” Powell and Caswell Allen) competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics.

While they did not win any medals, the spirited underdogs left their mark and became a sensation of the Games.

Stokes said they had no input in the cast selected for Cool Runnings, but endured extensive interviews with the movie's producers. He believes the story is respectful and uplifting despite varying interpretations over the years.

“The US is certainly more sensitive and tuned in to the subtle nature of persistent racism and there is progress to be made there. Nevertheless, not everything is a plot to demean and degrade. I am encouraged that students of that age are willing to look, check themselves and think for themselves,” he said.

The PG-rated movie was banned from the Massachusetts-based Wayland High School's annual winter week which allows students to relax following mid-term exams. The student council announced that Cool Runnings would be the movie aired this year, only to be advised by principal Allyson Mizoguchi hours later that it would not be shown.

“While disappointing for students, I want to emphasise that this experience has inspired productive, honest conversation about stereotypes in the media, the nature of narrative, and subtle, racially insensitive messages as compared to overt racism,” Mizoguchi said in an email.

Cool Runnings follows four Jamaican bobsledders' dream of competing in the Winter Olympics, despite never having seen snow. Directed by Jon Turteltaub, the movie made a whopping US$154.9 million at the box office. It stars John Candy, Doug E Doug, Rawle D Lewis, and Malik Yoba.

Jamaica's first all-female bobsled team are currently competing at the Olympics for the first time after qualifying for the Pyeongchang Games in South Korea. Pilot Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, brakewoman Carrie Russell and Audra Segree will compete on February 20 and 21.

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