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Loving God Loves the Fighter
That this film has the word “God” in the title is really no coincidence. It would be easy to imagine future generations of Trinidadians referencing God Loves the Fighter (GLTF) as a milestone moment in T&T cinema: discussing the industry along pre-GLTF and post-GLTF timelines, pretty much the same way the coming of the Christ changed the way we viewed the world as we know it. Director Damian Marcano tried to make a film that referenced some of the themes of his childhood in Morvant, the place he left as a 12-year-old boy. It is clear, however, while he may have left the community in the physical sense, Morvant continued to live in his heart. GLTF is a story about friendships, loyalties and values in the ghettoes east of Port-of-Spain. Charlie (Muhammad Muwakil) and Stone (Abdi Waithe) are old childhood friends who are reunited when Charlie falls upon hard times. By then Stone has risen to be one of the most notorious and well-respected gangsters in the district.
Through bad luck and circumstances, Charlie meets Dinah (Jamie Lee Phillips), a light-skinned prostitute with an uptown air about her and a strong “Convent accent”, and whose guilty conscience turns the plot around and brings the action to a boil. The film will challenge audiences whose ideas of Trinidad occupy the postcard idyll of swaying palm trees and windswept beaches. Instead, we see a paradise lost to ramshackle galvanise shacks and decaying concrete bunkers with flimsy walls and an even thinner veneer of civility. The decay of the physical surroundings—emphasised by the stark, high-contrast and often either over-exposed outdoor daytime exteriors, or the moody, under-lit nighttime interiors—is a reflection of the stark reality of the film’s subject matter. Often in that mirror is a reflection some Trinis don’t want to see. The truths exposed in GLTF are quite uncomfortable for those who wish to ignore the ghetto, and this film is but a pantomime of that collective delusion many audiences will call their lives. GLTF drops that viewer smack into the middle of that truth like some unfortunate tourist in a survival reality show and leaves them searching for their own answers for an hour and 44 minutes.
Aside from the central characters, the main plot also revolves around Mr Putao Sing (Darren Cheewah), a half-Chinee, drug-dealing pimp who hijacks the scenes with a big gun in his hand and another one slung into the Y-front hipster jockey shorts. Sing’s vibe is so cool that you almost go down St James and search him out for noseful of blow and some of the debauchery he does a brisk trade in. To Trini audiences, this film will raise some serious debates on the social, moral and racial issues that lie unexplored in the narration, ably handled by Lou Lyons, whose character, King Curtis, is the fly-covered spectator on the wall who sometimes overpowers the action on screen. The visuals are well-shot and speak directly. There isn’t always the need for King Curtis to tell us what to feel and think about what we’re seeing. What that narrator could have helped clarify, however, is the existence of Dinah—a pretty white girl with upper-class moral dilemmas and an inexplicable Convent accent virtually unheard of on ghetto streets. What happens to Chicken and Dirk (Zion Henry and Jaleel Waithe)? We spend so much time learning about them yet they disappear before the credits roll, an untidy end for two gripping characters through which the Morvant of Marcano’s memories come to life most brilliantly.
Marcano assures us that these issues are unintentional, yet they are there, nonetheless. Ultimately, perhaps it is because of the nature of these unanswered questions that this film is going to have a long shelf life. Fifty years later, T&T finally has something to parallel the Jamaican cult film The Harder They Come. Comparison will also be made to the Brazilian cult classic, City of God. That GLTF can stand in such illustrious company is a statement in itself. There are no easy answers to be had here. As articulate as this film is, Marcano is a filmmaker, not a social architect. It is not the whole truth of what life in T&T is all about, but it is largely an honest, realistic and accurate portrayal of the Port-of-Spain underworld. GLTF is a well-made, beautiful film that we can take pride in calling ‘Made in T&T’.
Dennis Tayé Allen is a graphic artist with the T&T Guardian and a sports talk-show host.
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