This article by Curtis Caesar John appeared in Shadow and Act.
The Caribbean Film Series, Brooklyn-based Caribbean Film Academy’s ongoing film series of standout Caribbean films, returned for its third edition last Thursday December 3rd at BAM Rose Cinemas with its screening of Leticia Tonos’ “Cristo Rey.”
Covered a few times here on S&A, the Dominican Republic-based and produced Romeo & Juliet-like drama replaces the Montagues and Capulets battling in the streets of Verona with Haitian immigrants seeking a better life on the richer side of the island, falling into conflict with Dominican gangs and police forces bent on controlling the goings-on in the titular Santo Domingo shantytown.
This is a timely screening for the series given the uproar earlier this year of the forced deportation of Haitian men, women, and children born in the Dominican Republic to non-citizen parents. This is all in addition to the ill treatment given to these Haitian immigrants, both concerns of which are ably addressed in the film. As the press release reveals of the film’s plot:
“Janvier’s (James Saintil) mother is deported to Haiti after saving him from bigoted policemen. To both aid her and make ends meet, the kind-hearted teenager of mixed Haitian-Dominican descent takes a job with local kingpin El Bacá (Leonardo Vasquez) to bodyguard to the gangster’s beautiful sister Joceyln (Akari Endo), who Janvier discovers once dated his estranged Dominican half-brother Rudy (Yasser Michelén).
Upon discovering Janvier and Jocelyn have fallen in love and plan to escape the barrio, Rudy’s jealousy over their relationship, as well as his denial over his own Afro-Caribbean identity, sets in motion a series of events which threatens their entire community. Director Leticia Tonos Paniagua’s vibrant visuals reflect hope in a background of deep-rooted and explicit violence and prejudice against Haitians, which has permeated the Dominican Republic for way too long.”
I’d be remiss if I did not note that the extremely popular image that permeated the internet over the past year of a Black woman holding a machete to a cop’s neck, an image that many thought was real due to the continued police violence against African-Americans, is directly from “Cristo Rey” and reflects the inciting incident that drives Janvier in “Cristo Rey.” No spoilers here, that’s in the trailer (see below).
Also notable, the post-screening Q&A with director Leticia Tonos will be moderated by filmmaker Michele Stephenson, the co-director/producer of the hit documentary “American Promise,” and a filmmaker with Haitian roots herself.
Screening Thursday December 3rd at 7:30pm, tickets for “Cristo Rey” are available at BAM.org/CristoRey. This screening is co-presented by The Caribbean Film Academy, BAMcinematek, and the Brooklyn Cinema Collective, in partnership with the Haiti Cultural Exchange. The short film “Purgatorio” (12 min – 2014), by Haitian writer, producer, and director Martine Jean, precedes the film.
See more about the Caribbean Film Series at CaribbeanFilm.org.