Animae Caribe takes Caribbean animation to the world


[Many thanks to Vladimir Lucien for bringing this item to our attention.] Rachael Espinet (Newsday) writes, “In the media, image is everything, but the images often shown in cartoons rarely include black and brown bodies. The University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), through Animae Caribe, is pushing to have more representation of the Caribbean and the diaspora in animation worldwide.”

Last Wednesday Animae Caribe held the opening screening at the Government Campus Plaza, Richmond Street, Port of Spain. The audience was treated to short animated films from local, regional, African and black American filmmakers.

Camille Selvon Abrahams, programme co-ordinator for animation studies at UTT, said content creation is key to helping develop identity in the Caribbean. “When a child sees beauty as something other than themselves, then of course that is a pain they would have to live with. They would think and feel that what they see in the mirror, that is not what is beautiful. Therefore it is important that we show our beauty.”

For the younger generation, she said, “Social media is their life. “We have to push our images out there that is reflective of who we are. It is really important,” she told Newsday in an interview.

That night was the Caribbean premiere of Hair Love by US director Matthew Cherry, a Sony-backed film about a little girl who gets her father to comb her hair. The show promotes self-love and challenges gender norms. Substance, by Jamaal Bradley and Michael Yates, showed two brothers fighting over one brother’s substance abuse problem. Mighty Grand Piton by Wesley Louis was also shown, about a Transformer-like robot, and set in St Lucia.

Malika Warrior Queen by Nigerian director Niyi Akinmolayan is a stunningly beautiful show about a powerful African queen in the 1400s. Kenny and Brown Bear by Kendell Boodoo was the opening film of the festival. Boodoo is autistic, and his film tells the story of his trip to New York when he was six.

While the sun, sea and sand aesthetic of the Caribbean is often perpetuated, the realities of island life and the stories of the Caribbean people are not often told. Abrahams said a show like The Mighty Grand Piton had to be celebrated by Animae Caribe, and it meant a lot to Louis, who is based in London, for his show to be screened to a Caribbean audience.

“It is about content. It is about our intellectual property…We think the world is ready for our voices. You saw it there, you saw the reaction, the laughter, the crying. And it was all our stories, every single one. The diaspora is us.”

This year, Selvon Abrahams said, Animae Caribe is all about content creation and selling the work. It is working with the Caribbean Export Development Agency to take films to Germany. The agency is taking products such as music, fashion, chocolate, rum and animation to international buyers. It is also working on taking ten animators to Germany, where buyers such as Sesame Street and Netflix can see Caribbean animation.

“The intention is to expose our ideas. We are very young in the game, but we believe that we are able to sell products. If you get companies like Netflix very interested in a project, our next step is to create the project. If Netflix wants it, we create it. That’s how the industry works. So you don’t create 52 series and just try to sell it. What you do is create an idea, a very succinct idea, and you sell that idea, like Piton. I am trying to get Piton to go with us to Germany. When I saw it first, I thought, ‘This better make it to TV.’”

At the launch she also said the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is partnering with UTT to fund an outsourcing studio at the Tamana campus so there would be opportunities for people who have ideas to work at the physical space. UTT animation students would also have the opportunity to be hired to do the jobs.

On Friday, eight groups from around the Caribbean pitched their ideas, after five days of training in writing for animated series and game design prototyping by Sony Pictures Animation’s Tyree Dillihay and game design expert Eric Elder. The winning pitch will receive US$10,000.

[Shown above: The frazzled hair of the little girl in Hair Love by Mathew A Cherry.]

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