Prendergast to show Black BodiesTuesday, January 26, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
WHEN the Sundance Film Festival opens in Park City, Utah, in the United States this Thursday, Jamaican actress and activist Donisha Prendergast will have the distinction of having a film on show at the event. She is the lead actress in the short film Black Bodies .
Black Bodies speaks to the impact of racial injustice and was inspired by a highly publicised incident in the USA involving Prendergast alongside writer and director of the film Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, and visual artist Komi Olafimihan. The trio were detained by police in Rialto, California, in May 2018 after an elderly Caucasian woman called 911 claiming she saw three black people “stealing stuf”'. The police responded with seven police cars and a helicopter. The group of friends, including Prendergast's assistant Ashlee Hutchinson, who is white, were preparing to depart after staying in the neighbourhood for three days during Stephen Marley's 'Kaya Fest' music and education festival.
The Jamaica Observer caught up with Prendergast at her current base in Toronto, Canada, and she shared her joy at returning to acting.
“Acting and the theatre... that's really my first love. When I was young I would tell people I wanted to be a child psychologist. What acting did for me was [it] allowed me to channel these stories and characters in a way that exposed me to people in the same way that psychology would. I stepped away from acting and got into activism simply because the world demanded it. I will continue my activism, but right now I am falling back in love with my first love,” she noted.
Prendergast added that stepping back into acting also fulfils her desire to see more Jamaican, Caribbean and women of colour on screen using their authentic voices and accents, and to be a positive representation for young women in particular.
Speaking of Black Bodies, she noted that following the 2018 incident all three people decided to respond creatively and this film is Marshall-Fyffe's contribution; Olafimihan did a painting, while she has done a docu-feature to be released on social media entitled Dear Neighbour.
“But this [Black Bodies] is all our film, as we all contributed in some way. Once the incident happened we launched a social impact campaign just looking at, and drawing attention to all the similar incidents which had occurred...this whole living while black scenario. Out of that we sought to petition the US Congress for accusers to be held accountable.
“When you look at all these incidents where the police was called, none of the callers was held responsible for their actions. In our case, the caller remains nameless and faceless as they are protected but we could have easily been killed, yet no action was taken against the caller,” Prendergast continued.
This showing at Sundance comes on the heels of Black Bodies' Canadian premiere at the Toronto International FIlm Festival (TIFF) in 2020, at which the film received the inaugural Changemaker Award and was additionally listed as one of Canada's top 10 films for 2020, despite the fact that the film is only four minutes long.
At TIFF, considered one of the world's top film festivals, Prendergast had the distinction of having two films on show.
She played the female lead opposite actor and musician Saul Williams in award-winning director/writer Charles Officer's feature length film Akilla's Escape. The film tells the story of a drug dealer who gets caught up in the middle of a violent robbery. It is a nuanced take on the urban crime genre and illustrates how the oppressive cycle of violence manifests in different generations and just how difficult it is to break that cycle.
The team of creatives sought to create a piece that was visually captivating, emotive, and honoured the endurance and power of people of colour to persevere. Both films were shot in Toronto, Canada, and produced by Tamar Bird and Sasha Leigh Henry of Bird's Eye View Productions, with cinematography by Jordan Oram — who has lensed music videos for Drake, Jay Rock, SiR and Miguel, as well as commercials for Mercedes-Benz and Dove.
“We give thanks for life because many didn't get to tell their story, so we have a 'response-ability' to use these moments to engage dialogue around identity, trauma and global family relations, but also 'ally-ship'. How can we share experiences that will help us to be more accountable to our growth as individuals and as a global community?” questioned Prendergast.
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