Maybe this global crisis will finally give the Caribbean region an opportunity to develop a laser sharp focus on capitalizing on one of its greater commodities – its culture.
Here’s what’s up in the Caribbean during this pandemic…
While businesses across all sectors have shut their doors, it’s tourism that has taken the biggest hit. The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) notes that tourism accounts for one third of the Caribbean’s economic output. With the tourism industry forced to come to a screeching halt, this has forced the region’s economy into immediate crisis mode.
Reports from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicate that the region should brace for particularly difficult times ahead, as the Caribbean Development Bank has predicted a 50 percent economic slump if current restrictions remain in place in the short term. Thankfully, the IMF has committed to quickly deploying emergency funds across the region to help countries mitigate the economic downturn. The Caribbean Development Bank has also allocated US$140 million to assist.
Meanwhile, on a larger scale, the United Nations’ World Travel Organization (UNWTO) notes that the pandemic has bowled over world travel and tourism in a way that has never been seen in history. UNWTO predicts that in 2020 there will be a 20-30 percent loss in travel and tourism globally. Compared to the only 4 percent loss during the 2009 financial crisis, it is evident that especially rough days are ahead.
So how does culture come into play?
Which brings us back to culture…
Arguably, in the Caribbean, music, art, film, fashion and the creative arts in general, have long been denied due investment in a world seemingly hungry for its culture. In Jamaica, for instance, dancehall and reggae have been the foundations for many other popular musical genres around the world, but on their own have only had relatively small global financial success.
Sprinter the Film & Netflix
Enter Sprinter the Film – the latest project under the belt of lauded Jamaican director, Storm Saulter.
A few weeks ago Sprinter debuted on Netflix in the US, which couldn’t happen at a better time considering much of the world’s population is quarantined at home.
The film dives into Jamaican and Caribbean culture through the story of a young high school runner who overcomes various obstacles, ultimately to win a race that will help him land a scholarship to a US university. The film explores cultural norms and values prevalent across the Caribbean, such as the common phenomenon of ‘barrel children’ – children whose parent, or parents, have left them to go abroad to work and send money and goods back to them, essentially caring for and raising their children remotely.
Sprinter also, of course, looks at Jamaica’s strong track and field culture, which has fostered some of the most astounding world record holding athletes. Usain Bolt even makes a cameo in the film.
Netflix has announced plans to showcase more African made projects focused on African stories. Hopefully, the African diaspora of the Caribbean fits within this scope. Either way, Sprinter represents an opportunity for more Caribbean stories to be shared through mainstream channels. The film’s global embrace is yet another loud alarm to the region’s leaders to invest more in exporting its creative works to the global marketplace.
With the region’s tourism industry at a standstill that won’t be easily shaken by governments’ efforts, maybe Caribbean leaders will take a strong look at its creative resources to rebuild their economies.