Don’t Worry, Be Happy

by spencersmyl

The film “Life and Debt” directed by Stephanie Black and inspired by Jamaica Kincaid’s novel “A Small Place”, promulgates the on going economic problem in Jamaica. Although Black’s documentary focuses on the island of Jamaica, it truly offers an in depth paradigm of the destructiveness of the capitalist globalized system. In the film, struggling fiscal deficits force the Jamaican government to seek help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF would lend hefty sums of money to the Jamaican government. In return the government would have to ratify to the Washington Consensus, which would force them to abide by strict economic policies outlined by the IMF, along with repaying the amount borrowed with interest. Having little choice Jamaica signed the agreement, and from this point on Jamaica did not see a sound economic system develop, promised by the IMF. Instead, their economy became weak and heavily dependent on foreign goods and services, making there economy unsustainable, inefficient, and uncompetitive. Black is able to illustrate the cause and effect of these developments by interviewing locals, a past Jamaican prime minister, and economic specialists. Encompassing all of this, Black creates a strong film that presents the viewer with the economic conundrum of globalization and a capitalist system. Using a developing verses developed country contrast to fully convey a personal and in depth message.

Black’s intended viewers are people living in developed countries, such as Canada and the United States. Why? Because is he is able to develop a stronger relationship between the viewer and the documentary in the short time of an hour and thirty minutes. Creating this bond is critical for any film maker because it allows them to convey their message more effectively. Black creates this relationship right at the beginning of the film by showing a scene of many tourists arriving in beautiful Jamaica, where they come from their stressful lives looking for paradise and the regale treatment. These tourists, much like ourselves, are portrayed as the wealthy citizens residing from developed countries. On their holiday they are seen as oblivious and myopic to their surroundings. For example, once the tourists are off the plane and hop on a bus to go to their hotel, the narrator (Jamaica Kincaid) explains in a cool and crisp voice that there are no nearby hospitals as the bus diver aggressively overtakes a car on an old rickety two way road with oncoming traffic. The tourist are completely unaware of this, but why would they care, they are on holidays after all. Black continues to play off of the oblivious tourists throughout the rest of the film in order for the viewer to feel personally attached to the subject matter. The viewer, who might be unaware of the connection, becomes engaged in such a way because they can directly relate to being in a similar situation as the tourist, a traveler. Using the tourists as examples, Black can then investigate further in to why and how the Jamaican economic system developed in the way it did. Ranging from why a substantial portion of goods in Jamaica are imported from the United States, why the sewage system is underdeveloped, why farmers are losing their jobs, why there are no nearby hospitals and so on. All of which are related with tourists in Jamaica, in order to fully connect the viewers understanding by engaging them with personal examples that they can relate to.


Throughout the whole film Black is able to describe and explain in a simpler way the current economic woes of Jamaica from common relationships between the viewer and the tourists in the film. It makes the film easier to follow for those who are unfamiliar with economic jargon, allowing them to see what is exactly going on over seas. Overall, Black’s film offers a prime example of what power and destruction globalization has over countries and how and why systems like the IMF do not work with capitalist agendas. “Life and Debt” is a documentary worth watching, a true example of the effects of globalization.




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