J'cans take on Hollywood
Members ofJamaicans inHollywood: (from left)Tristan Cunningham,Mark AnthonyWilliams, JozanneMarie, Gilbert GlennBrown, and SardiaRobinson

JAMAICANS in Hollywood, a seven-member group based in California, hopes to bring authenticity to Tinsel Town when it involves their culture.

“Jamaicans in Hollywood was created to give a voice to Jamaicans in the industry, to promote Jamaican storytelling, and to increase worldwide awareness of the importance of this authenticity,” Sardia Robinson, president of the two-year-old organisation, told the Jamaica Observer.

She continued: “Authenticity is more important than ever. Audiences demand it, and they quickly recognise when authenticity is not present.

“We support the idea that acting roles written for Jamaican characters be filled by authentic Jamaican actors. The authentic Jamaican experience is often misrepresented in film, television, and online performances due, in part, to non-Jamaican actors relying on stereotypes and inauthentic accents in their performances.

“We object to portraying the Jamaican experience as a homogeneous and stereotypical Caribbean experience, perpetrated by decades of Hollywood's insensitivity to real Jamaicans and real Jamaican experiences,” Robinson charged.

An actress who has appeared in the movies Who Wants Me Dead, Murder in the Thirst and T R Y, Robinson is from St Thomas, but was raised in Kingston. She attended Maxfield Park Primary School and later Norman Manley High School.

She migrated to the United States at 19 and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in theatre at Columbia College Chicago, in Illinois. Her internship was at the famed Goodman Theatre, also in the Windy City.

“As a child, I knew I wanted to be an actor. I would direct and act out scenes with my dolls and even imaginary characters. I loved going to the movies and imagining myself doing what they did on-screen. I got my first real taste of performing with a dance routine when I was in high school. When I moved to Chicago and found out I could actually study theatre and become an actor, I knew that was my path,” said Robinson.

T R Y may be her biggest role to date. In August, it won Best Ensemble at the Culture and Diversity Film Festival in California.

Asked what impact Jamaicans in Hollywood have made, Robinson shared: “As an organisation, we are fairly new. Our members have been supporting fellow Jamaicans and furthering the causes and purpose of Jamaicans in Hollywood long before we came together as a group. But now, by combining and focusing our voices and coordinating our efforts, we are being heard and making a difference.

“In our individual careers, our members are reporting an increased appreciation of authentic Jamaican experiences and witnessing more and more roles written for Jamaican characters actually going to real Jamaicans. At this point, we are a small but mighty voice, but as we grow and thrive and continue to see progress, we will become larger in numbers and enjoy even more success,” she said.

Calls for authentic Jamaican portrayals in Hollywood have been made for decades. Poorly delivered accents and images of violent drug dealers in hit series like Miami Vice and the movie Marked For Death drew outrage from Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora.

Robinson's colleagues at Jamaicans in Hollywood include Vice-President Mark Anthony Williams, Gilbert Glen Brown, Tristan Cunningham, Jozanne Marie, Andrea Meshel, and Winston Bailey.

Williams — a writer, producer, director and actor — has The New Edition Story, The Soul Man and Grey's Anatomy among his credits, while Brown plays Dr Martin Luther King Jr in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, which stars Jennifer Hudson.

Cunningham recently appeared in All Rise on CBS, as well as The Fugitive, NCIS and the Netflix comedy, Family Reunion.

Marie is an actress, writer and speaker. Her memoir, Beautiful Unashamed and Unafraid, is one of the books to receive the Margins Book Award for Social Justice and Advocacy in the United States. She has a supporting role in the upcoming feature film Quiet in My Town.

Meshel began her career as a film-maker in 2008 with the documentary I Wanna Be President. She has written, directed and produced several projects including the short films Decent, Alone and Necrophilia.

After arriving in the Canada, Bailey moved to Los Angeles to pursue his passion in acting. He studied at Vanmar Academy and booked his first commercial opposite Ray Charles. He appeared in the Real LAPD, Nip Tuck, Tek it Back directed by Kyle Chin, and Sangre Negra on Amazon by directed by Frank Pinnock.

Andrea Meshel
Winston Bailey
BY KEVIN JACKSON Observer writer

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