Post 463.

LAST WEEKEND, I chose Maya Cozier’s She Paradise over MovieTowne’s Hollywood blockbusters, determined to show cinemas that audiences want local films. It’s only when we fill the house to see our own productions that movie theatres will follow demand, offering showtimes over longer periods and in more locations. 

Endless numbers of our youth have never seen anyone who looks like them or anywhere that looks like their reality in a cinema, made gritty or beautiful, shown as larger than petty or painful and in ways that actually humanise, so that we look at each other with more understanding or compassion and a sense that each of us carries a complex story. 

We portray ourselves in music videos, but the majority are so stereotyped, they misrepresent as much as they show. We see ourselves on the news, but as success or tragedy, hardly in relation to everyday Trinidadian life.

By contrast, She Paradise focuses on impoverished and working class black and mixed women (two have Indian last names), from 17-year-old Sparkle, the film’s protagonist, to the crew of three dancers she joins in an attempt to use her youthful sexuality to put food on the table instead of cooking discarded vegetables from the market. 

Black and mixed Trinidadian women are predominantly hypersexualised in our region’s visual landscape. Less often do we see them as subjects, rather than objects, navigating these stereotypes and their own families, emotions, traumas and aspirations. 

Sparkle lives with her granddad, once a thriving goldsmith. She auditions for and then befriends the dance crew, seeking money, appeal and adulthood. She’s still inexperienced, however, and despite being warned about a local soca celebrity, believes that sex with him might have genuine and mutual intimacy. 

Instead, he rapes her one night at a party when drugs and alcohol make her nearly unconscious and, though she tries to fight back, she learns there’s little empathy for naïve teenage girls, those seeking to express and enjoy their sexuality or those becoming a woman among predatory men. Maya Cozier highlights these sexual politics poignantly; the other women in the dance crew were also raped or used and discarded, and had to learn to tough it out to survive. 

The women in this story are not perfect. They are in, what the band Freetown would describe as, their fully human form. Sparkle steals from her grandfather, but later promises to pay him back. He locks her out of the house one night, calling her a jamette, but his home remains her safe place in the world. Diamond, Shan and Mica protect her as they do each other, but also abandon her, creating a betrayal that stops Sparkle from wanting to go back. They are in control of lives that appear out of their control. 

Sparkle finds her erotic power, earning money she needs, but walks away from the nightlife of a dancer, though to what isn’t clear. She understands men will pay for sex and will provide enough for a car and apartment, dancers can earn more than they ever had before, and parties can be exciting, but she also discovers that none of it is as nice as she imagined it might be. 

Sparkle’s story is real. Across the Caribbean, mostly because they are poor, girls are trading their sexuality for survival. For them, as for Sparkle, there is power and pleasure as much as there is exploitation and vulnerability. 

All this reckoning is set to the film’s bad-gyal soundtrack, pumping with dancehall and soca music as its own aural narrative. Cozier’s camera also uses close-ups and movement to keep audiences connected. 

The film’s performances are believable, from Kimberly Crichton as Diamond, the hardened mother-figure of the sisterhood of women, Denisia Latchman as tough Shan with dancehall queen moves, Chelsey Rampersad as the softer Mica who fled family violence and whose bisexuality is fully accepted by her crew, and Onessa Nestor, who plays Sparkle and who comes of age in front of our eyes. Michael Cherrie, as Papa, creates as identifiable a character as one would expect from such an experienced actor. 

As a first, full-length feature by a young woman, She Paradise is ambitious. Cozier is a filmmaker with a future. Few were in the cinema, which was unfortunate because her film is hugely worth watching as a Caribbean viewer, perhaps out on a date night. It’s up to us to value the thrill of scenes and people that look like who and what we know, shown on a big screen.

Post 391.

As a young woman entering Caribbean feminism in the 1990s, I was inspired and guided by the Trinidad and Tobago chapter of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA TT). I learned as much from listening and watching these sharp, wise and conscious Caribbean women as I did from university. They weren’t easy, but those rose coloured days are full of memories of seemingly-older women gnashing at oppressive relations just as much as sharing a laugh, perhaps as a survival strategy, over the foolishness of it all. 

They loved the ‘tea parties’ I found quaint, believed in the power of letters to the editor, were firm that women’s groups worth their salt were grounded in paid membership and active members, and held the broad aspiration of justice for women and men everywhere. 

Conversations included global struggles, labour struggles and women’s struggles. There were often cross-ethnic conversations with differences in experience and opinion, and they navigated a slew of strong personalities that didn’t always get along, often debated and even disagreed, but were highly protective of each other. I learned the basic decency of this feminist ethic of refusing to attack each other publicly the way that men do. I saw both their tensions and undercurrents, and commitment to collaboration through it all.  

From 2003 to 2016, Tara Ramoutar was National Representative of the TT chapter of CAFRA. This column honours her contribution to Caribbean feminist movement-building.  A small, sharply astute and fiery woman, I admired her quiet leadership, her quick movements and her ready laughter. 

Tara’s family grew cane, rice and garden vegetables. Her father would listen to parliamentary debates on the radio, and they would discuss everything from politics to sports. It highlights the paucity of stereotypes that insufficiently recognise how rural and agricultural Indian families nurtured children’s vociferousness and challenge to injustice, and supported Indian daughters’ participation in Black Power and labour movements in the 1960s and 1970s. 

Tara tells a story of a march from Paramount Building in San Fernando, in March 1974 around 10 o’clock. Instead of putting on her school uniform, she told her mother she was going to join the OWTU, ending up directly facing a barrage of policemen with shields, bayonets and tear gas, and getting home near night. Imagine secondary school girls choosing to march with workers, and parents accepting a daughter so outspoken against authority. 

In the 1970s, Tara began working with the Transport and Industrial Workers’ Union, and developed a consciousness of women workers’ struggles with low wages from local businesses and factories, from Bata to Neal and Massy car plant, Amalgamated Industries, and other companies long closed. Women were encouraged to become shop stewards, branch presidents, and treasurers in the union, building their sense of strength to end poverty, violence and inequity. Shaffira Hosein, past shop steward with the Bank and General Workers’ Union and CAFRA member, tells a similar story of the close networks among union and feminist movements.  

From there, Tara joined Concerned Women for Progress, formed by such women as Patricia Mohmmed, Pat Bynoe, Rhoda Reddock, Gaietry Pargass, Carol Gobin, Cathy Shepherd and Linda Rajpaul, which highlighted issues facing women farmers, and women’s health and reproductive rights, and which held the first forum on rape. With women like Cynthia Reddock, Tara helped to form the Consumer Protection Movement, focusing on concerns such as food prices, and helping to write its constitution. She was in the Cuba Friendship Association with Michael Als, James Millette, and Vincent Cabera. 

By the time CAFRA was founded in 1985, first coordinated by Rawwida Baksh, structural adjustment was crippling Caribbean industries, workers and women. Mentored by Cathy Shepherd at CAFRA TT, Tara went on to be the small-built Indian woman I saw at the helm throughout many of my early feminist years. 

In a 2014 interview on IGDS’ YouTube page, Tara called for us to continue conversation with each other directly, in the way that once strengthened and consolidated women’s groups and which, despite or perhaps because of social media, we need more than ever today. 

For her, CAFRA’s work is also to continue to build consciousness in women so they can chart their own course and never be afraid of anything.  

Women’s contribution to social movements is often forgotten, and many can’t name women like Tara, or anticipate histories and politics like hers. Her contribution is vivid in my memory, and remembering contributes to our multi-ethnic legacy. 

Tara Ramoutar, comrade and sister in struggle, please accept my heartfelt respect. 


Tara passed away on Saturday 19 September 2020. I was lucky to visit her, with with Rhoda Reddock, on Friday 11 September when she was sitting up, recognising us and chatting happily, with familiar brightness in her eyes. May she rest in peace.

In response to this column, Alissa Trotz sent me these two pieces from the In the Diaspora column. The first on another working-class, Indo-Caribbean woman, Basmattee “Desiree” Dharamlall, who crossed boundaries of all kinds in her life. And, the second on the revolutionary and healing promise of courtesy, a nearly forgotten skill in a time of social media, and one with which I’m sure a woman like Tara would agree.