Entertainment

Jimmy Jean-Louis acts for Haiti

By Aaliyah Cunningham
Observer writer
aaliyahc@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 27, 2019

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POSSESSING a vision for himself and country, Haitian-French actor Jimmy Jean-Louis is breaking stereotypes and crossing boundaries as he makes his way across the silver screen.

Jean-Louis was in Jamaica for the première of Bahamian film, Cargo, held last Wednesday night at Carib 5 in Kingston. In the film, he played the role of a Haitian illegally residing in The Bahamas, seeking to enter Florida illegally by fishing boat.

Part proceeds of the film ­ throughout its Caribbean release ­ will be donated to Hollywood Unites for Haiti, a non-profit organisation founded by Jean-Louis to promote sports and cultural activities for underprivileged youth in Haiti.

This is not his first go at acting. Jean-Louis has been in the business for the past 20 years. He has appeared in films such as Phat Girls, Relentless, Monster-In-Law, Tears of The Sun, Toussaint Louverture and NBC's Hero. After spending the first 12 years in Haiti, he migrated to France where his life before the camera and in the performing arts began.

“I started as a dancer and that was back in Paris and Spain,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “Then, I moved on to modelling where I lived in Italy, South Africa, England and various other places and suddenly after that, I ended up going to Los Angeles to pursue acting.”

Though appearing in a variety of films, he explained that he has faced all imaginable challenges.

“In America, first of all being Black is definitely not a very good thing in the acting world and on top of that, being Haitian, was even less (good),” he said.

“The good thing with me is that I lived in a bunch of other countries, I already knew who I was and I already knew I would have to break some of those doors, so I didn't let anybody press me down. I was always to pick myself up.”

Even though he had his fair share of setbacks, the 50-year-old said that has never stopped him from giving it his best shot.

“I wasn't scared. I just knew it was a matter of time, people need time to know who we are, and to understand each other. I knew I was very unusual, so I knew it would take a lot longer for people to get me,” he said.

Jean-Louis is equally passionate about the development of his homeland.

“Right now, it (Haitian film industry) is terrible,” Jean Louis said. “I went back to Haiti back in 2005 and 2006 and I did a couple of movies there because the movie industry was starting to boom, but then piracy and the situation of the country just started to bring everything down.”

He has since made other attempts to grow the industry. However, the lack of movie theatres in the country possess the biggest challenge.

Films Moloch Tropical, Everything But A Man, La Caja Vacia, short film Lalo's House were shot on the island as a part of his efforts.

Still, Jean-Louis only wants the best for his native land. He expressed that playing roles such as that in Cargo allow him to highlight issues that plague Haiti.

“I always try to draw that parallel between what we (Haitians) did back then and the state in which Haiti is in now. What really hurts me the most is, people forget about the history of Haiti. It's better to forget about it and just look at Haiti for what it is, and I'm trying to preach as much as possible that Haiti stood for something extremely strong back then. Haiti carried the Caribbean and now to see the Haitians being treated the way they do it hurts me. The fact that we have the Haitians wanting to go out of Haiti in search for better life is completely unacceptable.”

Center for Immigration Studies estimates there are 75,000 to 125,000 illegal Haitian immigrants in the United States.

Haiti gained their independence from slavery in 1804 after rebellion, becoming the first Caribbean country to gain independence. Since then the island suffered because of its political history and exploitation. In 2010 they were hit with a 7.5 magnitude earthquake which further destroyed their economy and thwart their growth.

Nevertheless, Jean-Louis believes his nation will rise from the ashes.

In the meantime, he offers advice to Caribbean natives who dream of pursuing acting.

“Make sure that you love what you do and put as much love as you can in it... I understand that in the Caribbean you know the business isn't huge but if you are good enough, opportunities will come through,” he said.

He sees himself as example of the good that can come from the island.

“I'm a young kid who was born in Haiti without electricity, without running water, so it's possible for everyone. We can become whoever we want to be.”


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