The Harder They Come: Getting My Share. An Analysis of Two Worlds

Within the film “The Harder They Come” written and directed by Perry Henzell and Trevor Rhone, the city plays a fundamental role in depicting the intransience of colonialism. Kingston embodies the features of the colonial world cut in two and this is evident if one observes the racial, political and geographical conditions presented in the film. This follows the theory of decolonization put forward by Frantz Fanon who states that the “colonial world is a compartmentalized world.” The issue lies in the strategies deployed by leaders and citizens in “new” postcolonial countries: they adopted a culture of enlightenment, mirroring European government, racial, gendered outlooks, thus, they failed to adequately reconstruct and question the Eurocentric which meant their societies simply refashioned oppression and inequality. These nationalist approaches lead to instances witnessed in the film where there basically exists an invisible boundary with the colonizers’ privileged off springs on one end and the common folk on another, experiencing the city in antithetical ways. It is through this divergent postcolonial landscape that the status quo of the society in the film is maintained.

If the viewer pays attention to the geographic arrangement of the city in “The Harder They Come”, he/she will be able to examine the covert situations which support and preserve a refined form of colonialism. In the opening scenes of the movie, Ivan makes his way out of a rural, and presumed traditional environment, into the modish and vibrant streets of Kingston. The journey takes Ivan into the hub of the city where vehicular and human presence increases. In the beginning scenes, Ivan sees a light blue convertible drive out of an all-white shopping center[1] with a black man and two black females; in this point-of-view shot, the area appears to be clean, spacious and inhabited by a few people. 2.jpgThe parked cars are privately owned and arranged neatly in their designated parking spots. Contrasting this “Uptown” area is the hustle and bustle of “Downtown” Kingston which provides limited space to manoeuvre through. There are more public transport vehicles moving haphazardly, to and fro. The buses are rickety and overcrowded with passengers and luggage. When pedestrians cannot afford to pay the stipulated bus fare, they rely on the hand-cart man instead. There are no Chevrolet cars in these scenes; the typical means of transport for the lower-class citizens are buses, carts, bikes and bicycles. The areas where the British settled and procreated, along with their favoured compatriots, effectively become commercial and upper-class districts. Later, aspiring citizens on the periphery such as Ivan point to these locations with a smile and a wave, hoping to become a propertied bourgeois. c0a7f2895f65021f5065ac9fab424d23.png

The film explores the boundaries within the city even further by juxtaposing the images of the posh suburbs with the ramshackle environment of Shantytown. The uptown areas Ivan walks through have structures that are built differently and are aesthetically pleasing.  The houses are predominantly white with white picket fences complimented by spacious green lawns. The trees and flowers that line the fences are beautifully arranged. Cars are parked in each yard and the roads are paved, smooth and clean. There are no sounds to be heard but the chirping of birds. Individuals can be seen reclining in comfort on their front porch such as the haughty female Ivan approaches for a job. 8.jpgThe woman tells Ivan she does not require a worker and orders Ivan to close the gate behind him, reminding one of the exclusivity that belongs to the rich. Even Mr. Ray is seen relaxing in a hammock in his back yard as Jose frantically discusses the issues of the ganja trade.  Those residing in the pristine areas are usually white or light-skinned individuals. Even the glamorous hotels only cater to the well-off. Ivan’s stroll through the pool area populated by the wealthy lounging on benches, basking in the sun and swimming in the pool.

The “downtown” environment lacks the many commodities that the “uptown” areas enjoy. This sharp contrast is made when the camera cuts to a scene of the Riverton Dump, immediately following the footage of the suburban landscape. The multitude of garbage and flies seem endless as the johncrows (vultures) fly overhead. Like the vulture, the poor people are mere scavengers digging their way through the waste in the hopes of finding some marvelous trash left-over by the more fortunate. Ivan looks on in sadness and realizes there are “many rivers to cross” before he can reach the other side where the grass is always greener. the-harder-they-come-1972-720p-largescreenshot1.jpgThe footage also extends to the derelict houses of shantytown where the structures are built haphazardly and seem less sturdy; there are no steel fences or concrete walls but zinc and board all round. Residences are often marked by zinc enclosures bearing paint that read “don’t piss or urine at this gate, people are living here.” The roofs are the color of rust and rubbish covers the roadside along with carcasses of old cars.  Even the roads are unpaved, stony and dusty. These shots reveal how socio-political abandonment fuels communal abandonment; the respect for property is diminished in such disorganized infrastructures that lack basic amenities. They are the seemingly the “wretched of the earth”, living in “a disreputable place inhabited by disreputable people. [They] are born anywhere, anyhow. [They] die anywhere from anything” (Fanon, 4).

In Kingston, the division of labour also reflects a taking up of what the colonizers left off since the black majority work for the wealthy, Eurocentric minority who often exploit them. The poor citizens often occupy the informal market space and are also engaged in manual-labour occupations and industrial work. This is exemplified in the film where black men seeking employment form a long line outside a construction site. A light-skinned overseer decides whether to employ or reject the men desiring work. Even in the hotel scene one witnesses how the black workers cater to the affluent, proudly guarding the white doors[2]. As mentioned by Aggrey Brown in Color, Class, and Politics in Jamaica, a black man, with supervisory authority often “abuses his unaccustomed power in dealing with his own and toadies to the white boss” (1). Additionally, within the movie the dispossessed no longer cut sugar canes but sell ganja which becomes the postcolonial crop of the village. The plant is cultivated by the lower-class population yet the bulk of the profit still finds its way to the bourgeoisie. It can be likened to a modern-day plantation with the owner on one side (Mr. Ray) and Jose along with the other traders on the next side as paradoxical free slaves. Within the film, not much has changed in the postcolonial city where one’s job description is dependent on colour, background and money.

The poorer half of the society, as expressed in previous paragraphs, is largely populated by darker hued individuals who, like Ivan, dream of crossing over one day. It is interesting to note how the positions of power held in the film are by “brown” men such as Mr. Hilton, Mr. Ray, the radio spokesperson and various drivers of expensive Chevrolet cars. the-harder-they-come.jpgAs noted by Fanon, “looking at the immediacies of the colonial context, it is clear what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to.” The colonial world espouses a love for “whitedom” and an ambivalence and often rejection of “blackdom”; the white or brown/ light-skinned people are considered civilized and by default, able to access more resources than their “crude” “black” counterparts. The border dividing the upper classes from the lower classes consists of the police, soldiers and political representatives. These individuals monitor and control the common folk in order to prevent an insurgence, similar to the plantation overseer in the colonial period. They maintain the invisible walls through the use of their rifle butts, intervening between the maltreated and the exploiter. Communication between the two worlds in the film seem futile, one group is always excluded from the world of the other; as expressed by Fanon, “the colonist’s feet can never be glimpsed, except perhaps in the sea, and then you can never get close enough.” This is evident when we see how the brown elite drops the roof of his car when Ivan runs up begging some money at the hotel entrance. The same can be said of Mr. Hilton who is always being chased by those hoping for a bridge across the social gap. Ivan, like the other men with big dreams, call out to Mr. Hilton from behind a latticed fence. This is symbolic of the tangible and intangible barriers which separate the prosperous from the needy; a world that excludes yet invites you in and otherizes you if you dare reject it. Fanon contends that the human reality is that “you are rich because you are white; you are white because you are rich.” This inequity leads many underprivileged citizens to perceive the ruling class and their allies as “Babylon”, “the oppressors” that they will overthrow by any means necessary. This explains why the traders would not provide the location of Rhygin even after Mr. Ray brings the ganja trade to a standstill.

In the city of Kingston, the gap between the two worlds are also widened by the coping mechanisms employed by the lower classes. Whereas the postcolonial upper classes laze around in the sun at their fancy resorts, the black population, unable to copy British culture or conduct, nestle themselves in the dancehall, at the bar, at the movies or on the street corner playing dominoes. 4.jpgThe latter often partake in these activities to quell their frustration and reservations. These behaviors date back to the colonial period where the slaves (usually at harvest time) would assemble and dance/sing in tune with African drums while the plantation owners hosted soirées. The entertainment centers within Kingston likely offer what Fanon states about the phenomena of dance: a “muscular orgy during which the most brutal aggressiveness and impulsive violence are channeled, transformed and spirited away” (19, 20). An additional boundary marker between the two worlds in “The Harder They Come” is the church. 2311997470_aaafc230ed_o.jpgThe film pays special attention to the presence of this social institution for while the colonizers and their descendants have the land, the slaves are mainly left with the Bible. The church is an epicenter which not only consoles the colony but acts as a mediator between the subjugated and the authorities. The disenfranchised are taught patience, forgiveness, obedience and tolerance. In “The Harder They Come”, one does not see the elite attending church, perhaps because they are rich and do not need God for comfort?  The church, as articulated in Marxist philosophy, is the opium of the people; it often represses rebellion and promotes acceptance of one’s exploitation. Fanon asserts that “it does not call the colonized to the ways of God… [but] to the ways of the oppressor.” For instance, in the film, the choir sings “Jesus hear my plea” and the preacher tells the congregation that “whereas God so clothed the grass of the fields…shall he not so much more clothe you? Oh yea of little faith!” The poor folk are essentially told to be patient and wait for the “pie up in the sky”. Hence, religion in the film fails to encourage critical thinking about the real realities of the people along with the possible solutions that might decrease inequality and poverty.

The film, “The Harder They Come”, clearly demonstrates that Jamaican society is divided in matters of labour, infrastructure, leisure, travel and worship. The colour and race of individuals often determine how easily they can access the nations’ resources. In order to eradicate the mental and literal boundaries colonialism erects, Jamaican society, like most postcolonial landscapes, must confront its antinomy. Questions must be asked: How best can a country and its government spread its resources/opportunities evenly so that crime does not become a logical alternative, so that capital moves beyond the “brown” or “uptown”? In what way can the country re-imagine its people to be more than British imitators in speech and action, bearing in mind that Caribbean people are hybrids, neither fully African nor fully European? These answers, along with others, will impact the lives of literal Ivans who often must choose between drawing on their talent or drawing weapons.

[1] Known today as Manor Park Plaza, an area frequented by middle – upper class individuals, typically of lighter hue.

[2] Note how “white” colors symbolize the desire to be legitimate, that is, to do as white colonizers did: own white houses with white fences, gates, and well-tended gardens.




‘White racists are not monsters’.

Perhaps this sounds strange because the word ‘racist’ itself is like a bitter pill. Black people  bu are confronted with its dosage: daily, yearly, rarely (if in a predominantly black country); white people get a dash of its flavor in their mouth once its brought to the surface of an individual’s lips in accusation, declaration or through argument. Strong emotions rise, from both, one or several feeling offended and then there is that fleeting moment in the black individual’s mind where he/she might think or wonder:

  1. I feel so hurt about this, I wish I didn’t have to deal with this, I won’t stand for it (!)
  2. Did I say too much? Maybe ‘racist’ is too strong of a word to use? Just look at the way everyone’s looking at me like I said unicorns exist and they only eat bananas. 
  3. Maybe it’s all in my head? Then why do I feel this way, see these differences in treatments between myself and so and so?
  4. Nothing will change, now I’ve gone and added angry/hallucinating black woman/man to the list.

The accused may very well think or wonder:

  1. I’m being accused of being a racist, am I really one? 
  2. I don’t feel like a racist, what did I do wrong? 
  3. I don’t particularly like black people but racists were white colonizers who injured,abused, raped, lynched black people  for no other reason than the color of their skin.

See…that’s the problem. Racism is perceived as an action directed against black people by white people in the past. “These are modern times, ladies and gentlemen!” Yes, which is why it is harder to pinpoint because racism now is subtle, sometimes subconscious ( embodied knowledge).

“Why do you keep bringing up race?” “Stop whining, everything can’t be handed to black people” “How do you explain why there are so many successful black people then?” “There you go playing the race card again” (by the way,  if the race card does exist then black people have had a pretty bad run of luck while using it)

QUESTION: why are we so uncomfortable and afraid of talking about race? And what’s wrong with feeling uncomfortable? Talk to your non-white friend and let the icebergs break. Also, why do you assume black people think all white people are enemies when they do speak on race?

Racists are mainly seen as evil soulless people when in fact this is just a generalization that benefits no one. I don’t exactly love the word black people or white people either because it is usually followed by a generalizing statement, but anyways, we have to deal with it because we need those words to give order to written and performed things in society, to bring change…However, racism could be viewed like a treatable disease. ‘Regular people’ can have it, yes, like Josh who volunteers at the pet shelter and then goes home to his lovely wife and kids. Or Catherine who has a black friend but still thinks What do you think? As suggested by a character named Ifemelu in the novel Americanah, maybe the word ‘racist’ should be scrapped so that we can find something new like Racial Disorder Syndrome that can be listed under mild, medium and acute. I wonder what that treatment will consist of. I wonder what category Donald Trump falls into. Or is he just plain ignorant, regurgitating stereotypes that feed on ignorance?

Personally, growing up in the Caribbean which is predominantly black, I haven’t experienced racism (should I say yet?), maybe colourism and/or classism, of course.  In the Caribbean I am simply Jamaican but If I travel to America or Canada or England, for example, then I will be perceived as black and/or African-American. But I try to have an open mind and an open heart for all people, regardless of colour. I, like some of you, wish we didn’t have to close our eyes to, tiptoe or stomp past race issues.  Will we ever be able to hold conversations without that knowledge of history that makes one bitter, reverential or apologetic? Without that tense rumination of how to go about communicating? To be able to sway the misguided/prejudiced and know people for who they are, not who they are portrayed to be?

I think we can, but it won’t be easy because it requires effort on all sides, a willingness to risk feeling stupid or doubtful or upset, the choice to really look at each other in order to find understanding, true friendship, and a deep, powerful love. Will you try?