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Representation of Creolization in Caribbean Films

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

It could be argued that ‘Creolisation’ is one of the most distinguishing elements of the emerging film industry in the Caribbean. The creolisation processes in the Caribbean came as a direct result of colonization, slavery, and migration, which was pioneered by the Europeans. (Barrow and Reddock, 2001) The mixture of cultures that have come in contact with the region over the years has resulted in a sort of syncretic, cultural union. This union has had number socio-political configuration and has undergone constant reinvention and reconstruction. It started as a plantation type society where different racial & cultural groups were brought together only for economic activity and place in a context where only one particular class of the society had controlled over the socio-political organization and laws of motion governing social change (Barrow and Reddock 2001). It was later transformed into a plural society where two or more populations with distinct institutional systems, operated in the same social context independent of each other only meeting in the market place but not mingling. The final phase the social evolution the Caribbean was the emergence the creolized society which placed emphasized the melting and fusing of multiple cultures that existed in the region, (but more in particular the English and African, who the two major groups involved) to give birth to a new transnational hybrid culture.

The concept of Creolisation could be considered one of the most distinguishing features of this region. The formation and constant transformation of Caribbean culture could be traced through different narrative and representational tactics, particularly those connected to rescuing and giving voice to the stories and cultural manifestations that have been suppressed, erased or forgotten by Eurocentric and normative versions of the region’s history. Cinematically, the creolisation processes have been well displayed and represented in many Caribbean films symbolically, in the form of characterization and narrative constructions (Blasini, 2008).

When asked the question what is the Caribbean? An automatic response is likely to be an answer that includes vague definitions relating to both geography and culture. Since there has long been confusion concerning a geographic definition of the Caribbean. The region must be thought of simultaneously as a place and space, which are naturally linked. However, place and space must be established as a binary opposition i.e. one of the two opposites must assume a role of dominance over the other. In this case, it is a space that is considered dominate. According to W. J. T. Mitchell (2002) place suggests stability, a definite location distinctly marked by borders while space represents the more abstract, unstructured ideology as Michel de Certeau saw its space could be considered “a practised place.” It refers to the entire daily activities and practices of the Caribbean people, which is an ideology shared with what is considered to culture.

In filmmaking, the goal is to organize place and space for the viewer to look at; a relationship is created where the film acts as a mirror reflecting the reality of the space. Hence the image that is presented to an audience is a reproduction or a representation of the activities and practices of a people within a stable defined location that is marked by distinct boundaries. Since the Caribbean is the subject matter or the place and space that we refer to, and the presence of Creolisation is a dominant feature within the Caribbean society. Then Caribbean films must reflect the images of such if it is to be considered truly Caribbean. These images could convey several ways according to Blasini (2008) characterization is one of these ways that Creolisation could be represented. The characters in the narrative must be embellished with the natural ways of the people in the Caribbean space; they must ‘walk, talk and live the Caribbean’.

Which bring the notion of the Creole language, which serves as a distinct fundamental element of Caribbean Creolisation process. In their critical work entitled, Lettres creoles (1991) Chamoiseau and Confiant point out that, this language was the product of the experience of colonization and slavery. Its birth emerged out of the plantation and was brought into being by the interaction of slaves who were deliberately separated from their respective ethnic group to forestall the possibility of communication that might lead to resistance and revolt. However, through the influence of Maroons and by the interaction of these groups with the colonial culture, the Creole language emerged. It symbolizes cultural continuity, resistance to oppression, and the richness of ethnic admixture; as such, it serves to valorize the region's oral tradition even as it reinforces the qualities of pluralism and transformation.

The language like the people is syncretic but varies with the historical experience of a particular place/space that it emerged from. As a manifestation of their respective colonial powers, the Caribbean territories are often referring to as qualifiers i.e. English speaking, the French Speaking, the Spanish and the Dutch-speaking. However, apart from these classifications, the language situation is thought of as very complex Alleyne (1985) as there still is the presence of Creole languages, ethnic and vernacular dialects that are spoken alongside the official or standard language spoken on these islands.

With such a vibrant and rich language characteristics in the region, any films produced must reflect this element in its characterization. This element of Creolisation has been portrayed in several Caribbean films to date as seen in the Harder they come (1972), Dance Hall Queen (1997) and Ava and Gabriel (1990). Another element through which the Creole language has been expressed the music of the region, mainly through Dancehall, Calypso and Soca music. Also, obstacles faced, and the interactions portrayed in any Caribbean film must be a true and realistic representation of the realities of the social context of the region. The reality of the film world presented must match the reality of the real world. In this sense, the film can be seen as a series of languages, the camera has to produce space for the spectator and the spectator has to produce a notion of continuous homogenous space.

In the Caribbean films Creolisation must be used in the construction of reality, through the frame we position the viewer to see what we want them to see. Since the camera does not reflect true reality but instead the filmmakers own subjective understanding of reality. The reality that a person perceives is a direct result of his social and cultural influences, where he was born, his heritage values, the society itself affects his view of the world. Which brings focus to the question of “what is a Caribbean film?’ There has been much debate on whether a Caribbean film is a film produced in the Caribbean? Or is it a film produced by a person who lives or has some connection to the region. The reason for concern comes out of the idea of social context and its impact on a person; a person who has lived in the region will know the region personally. He will be able to understand it much different subjectively that a person who vies the region as an outsider, who may be interested in a particular element that he does no fully comprehend or might only have a view that is not intact with the true reality of the space. A more contemporary standpoint is that there is never only one point of view or perspective but a plurality of perspectives, which is linked to the notions of cultural difference, cultural specificity and questions of translation.

The narrative construction of a story that is to be told about the Caribbean context must take into consideration the social, political, cultural, geographical historical context of the place the story takes place. These elements must be looking on forces that brought about Creolisation, which is situated in the Caribbean experience. The Creole identity also allows authenticity to be considered the new, “third space” created by the process of Creolisation helps to erase the trait of mimicry often associated with non-Western societies. Which presents the Caribbean with a Tourist like a view that describes its all Caribbean identity based on stereotypical characterization that gives rise to the idea of “the stroller” who has encounters that are seen as episodes without consequences, “the vagabond” who is never settled in any place, “the player” whose world is one of risk and “the tourist” who moves on purpose but has a home that acts as both shelter and prison.

In concluding it should be lamented on that the Caribbean region, submerged into the idea of Creolisation. It is represented in practically every aspect of the Caribbean experience. The entire culture of the region comes out of the slavery colonization process that evolved into the Creole society. If films are to be made in the Caribbean-by-Caribbean filmmakers they must have some element of Creolisation expressed in these films. Creolisation is a part of this region and its roots are embedded in every aspect of its culture, form language, food and even religion.

Written by Akley Olton



Blasini, Gilberto M. 2008. “Criollizando imágenes fílmicas o de cómo aprehender críticamente al cine caribeño.” In Miradas al margen: Reflexiones sobre el cine de Latino América y el Caribe, edited by Luis Duno-Gottberg. Caracas: Cinemateca Nacional de Venezuela.

Hall, Stuart. 1992. “Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation.” Pp. 220-236

GILBERTO M. BLASINI in Ex-Iles: Essays on Caribbean Cinema, edited by Mbye Cham. Trenton:

Gabriel, Teshome. 1989. “Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory: Towards a Third Aesthetics.” Pp. 53-64 in Questions of Third Cinema, edited by Jim Pines and

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