Monday 17 August 2020

A Beef Patty Director on Being Caribbean Stars

Danielle Ayow Releases Inner Trini

By Stephen Weir / Caribbean Camera
Any movie that starts right in the thick of things at the Caribana parade immediately tugs at our heart!
But You’re Not Black, a short documentary by Toronto writer/director Danielle Ayow, will also be turning heads and tearing eyes at its CaribbeanTales Film Festival Canadian premiere next month. As As the movie rolls we see that the Lakeshore is packed with revellers. Young. Old. Black. Brown. White. Yellow. The music is loud, the spirits are high and there is brotherly love in the air!But as Ayow’s story rolls across the screen, the message of carnival changes.
Even though both her Asia parents were born and raised in Trinidad, many Toronto paraders on the road don’t accept her “Trininess”.
“The first time I went to Caribana I went in a stroller. I could feel the music through the ground.” These are first words that the Scarborough director says in the new documentary.

As she gets older she brags about how how proud she is to wear a headdress when she got older and actually played Mas.“But,” she continues, “ I could always feel the side-eyes – as if I was appropriating their Caribbean culture. I felt it most from those who believe to be Caribbean is to look a certain way.”
This is a 20-minute movie that speaks to an identity crisis that dogs the Diaspora in these days of mixed heritages.
As a Chinese-Caribbean-Canadian woman, Ayow says that she is driven by people’s inability to separate her skin colour from her culture.
She burns inside to own her Trinidadian identity.

“ I say I am like a beef patty, yellow on the outside and black on the inside!” jokes the director and star of the autobiographical film. She knows that she looks Asian Chinese but burns to have her inner-Trini shine!This is a story that is rooted in the personal experiences of the Toronto actress, comedian and filmmaker; Ayow challenges the correlation between race, skin colour and culture with a specific focus on Chinese-Caribbean in North America.
She interviews fellow Asian Trinis and Jamaicans living here in Toronto. She also talks to Caribbean scholars in Canada, the US and back to the motherland … Trinidad.
Is she Caribbean? Well there isn’t a fish or cut bait answer.
Dr. Camille Hernandez Ramdar, Caribbean Studies professor at Ryerson University, talks on camera in But You’re Not Black about her own identity struggles. Born in Winnipeg to Caribbean parents she has had to work hard to maintain her Caribbean identity.
“Race is a construct. Race changes according to time and place. You know there were no Asians 100 years ago,” she tells Ayow. “I was told I would never be Trinidadian. (But I worked hard at it) and now I pass!”
“It sucks balls,” Ayow responds. “I am constantly trying to prove them wrong. It can sound spiteful, which is partly why I am making this film!”
The new movie had its beginnings three year ago. Ayow, with the backing of the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival developed an 8-minute version. After that with support from the Toronto Arts community and a successful Go-Fund Me campaign, she was able to get the money to complete the 20-minute version.
But You’re Not Black
will have its world premier in Trinidad a few days before its Toronto premiere at the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival on September 25th at 7pm. Since this year’s CTFF is virtual, Ayow will be taking part in a Talk Back after the showing, albeit digitally.