By Alicia Sealey
King of the Dancehall is a simple story at its core. But, like an onion, while peeling it, either you or someone nearby will shed a tear.
We meet Tarzan (portrayed by Nick Cannon, recently released from a five -year stint in a New York jail,). He goes home to reconnect with his ailing mother (Whoopi Goldberg) and promises to do right by her hereafter.
The problem is that he doesn’t know any way of generating income legally. And old habits die hard.
He calls his Jamaican cousin, Toasta (Busta Rhymes) to get some income flowing. With his seed capital in pocket, Tarzan travels to Jamaica, and he establishes through Toasta’s connections, his business plan.
Onion layer #1 = illegal source of income.
Toasta introduces him to the party scene in Jamaica. The hottest party scene is at the dancehall club, The Jungle. Tarzan has never seen this type of dancing before. He is hypnotized by it, and by a dancehall girl.
Onion layer #2 = boy meets girl (Kimberley Patterson) and her father is a preacher (Lou Gossett Jr.)
The backdrop of the entire film is the dancehall culture, and its unique set of rules; all displayed liberally via Cannon’s script and direction style. And if you get lost, there is a running commentary from the main character; a story-telling style that is so popular these day.
Onion layer #3. = a stranger in a strange land trying to fit in.
Though inspired by a true story, from this point onwards, the film becomes predictable … except for that backdrop of the dancehall culture.
As a director, Cannon refreshingly weaves in documentary footage that captures this culture from every angle and era.
As the film’s writer, he resisted the temptation of designating the female leads in the film as mere sexualized footnotes. Instead, they are all emotionally strong and are in control of their needs, standards and desires.
I really enjoyed watching this film, and look forward to it getting purchased for mass-distribution.
At the world premiere of his film at TIFF 2016, Cannon referenced other dance-centered films like Dirty Dancing and Saturday Night Fever saying, “the richness of the Jamaican culture and the passion that lies there, I just wanted to put that on the screen.
“The Caribbean culture here in Canada is so rich and so real … so thank you for the opportunity.”
You’re welcome, Nick.
(Final TIFF screening: Fri Sept 16 at 5pm)