Review of Ian Harnarine’s “Caroni”


In “Trini ‘nanny’ film for international film fest,” Alexandra Simon speaks to Trinidadian director Ian Harnarine about his short film Caroni, which was recently screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be screened again on Sunday, September 16. The film explores the life of a Trinidadian nanny in New York trying to stay connected to her young daughter back home.

[. . .] Trinidadian-Canadian filmmaker Ian Harnarine’s film “Caroni” follows a Trinidadian nanny living and working in New York City and trying to keep in touch with her young daughter back home. The film sheds light on the visible group, whose stories outside of work go unheard of and unexplored, said Harnarine. “Being in Brooklyn or Manhattan, you’ll constantly see white babies with black or brown women, and I even see this with women in my own family, and I’ve always wondered about them, their lives, and their family,” he said. His film follows a late twenty-something nanny, trying to reconcile with possibly missing her daughter’s birthday.

During Harnarine’s studies at New York University Tisch School of the Arts in Manhattan, the film student says that is where he first noticed the phenomenon of mostly women of color — many from the Caribbean — as the caretakers of white children. And through countless observations, he was curious to learn more about these women and their personal stories. “I would see this Tribeca and Greenwich Village, and even when I would go to the playground — it was mostly black and brown women with white kids,” he said. “Just by normally seeing how these women interact with the children they care for, I was motivated to create this film.”

In the research leading up to the creation of the project, Harnarine says he spoke with several nannies in the city, including women in his family. During his interviews, he learned about the sacrifices these women make, while also maintaining their day-to-day livelihood and relationships with family members.

The subject particularly speaks to him because often times in other media portrayals, nannies are depicted in non-speaking roles and mostly serve as a background characters — never as fully-fleshed out people with a story. But giving them a voice in “Caroni” aims to challenge that trope. “I don’t want to say they’re not paid attention to, but when I watch movies where there may be a nanny — she’s always in the background and never speaking,” he said. “They are hidden in plain sight.” And in several instances, he’s even had colleagues attempt to relate to Caribbean culture by recalling their upbringing with a nanny. “When I tell people I’m Trinidadian, they might tell me ‘My nanny was Trinidadian,’ and in general their only connection to the culture is with the nanny that raised them,” he said.

Harnarine says his short is meant to be touching, and encourages viewers to recognize the stories of working nannies through the experience of one mother. “I try not to make films for an intellectual purpose because I’m far more interested in getting emotions out of people, so I hope people emotionally react to it and empathize with the struggles these women sacrifice,” he said.

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