A Conversation with Kalilah Enriquez, producer of the Jamaican documentary “Man a Gallis”

This week we interview journalist Kalilah Enriquez, producer & narrator of the documentary “Man a Gallis”. In the documentary Jamaican dancehall artistes discuss sex, love, dancehall and HIV.  The documentary features some of Jamaica’s major dancehall artists including Vybz Kartel, Beenie Man, Mr. Vegas, and Dancehall Queen Carlene. Here is our conversation with Kalilah. Here is our conversation with Kalilah.

How did the idea come about to do the documentary “Man a Gallis: Risk Factors For HIV/AIDS in the Dancehall”?
Caribbean Broadcast Media Partners (CBMP) issued a call for projects on the topic of Caribbean culture and HIV.  My editor at CVM TV, Garfield Burford, strongly encourage me to apply.  He threw a ton of ideas my direction, and our original concept was called “Sun, Sea and Stigma”, in which I would have compared and contrasted attitudes to sex/sexuality and HIV in three different Caribbean territories.  I quickly realized, however, that the topic was much too broad and the timeline for completion too soon to accomplish this ambitious project, so I decided to narrow it down to Jamaica.  Dancehall is a very large part of the culture in Jamaica.  I find the themes in the music, the personas portrayed, the dress, the attitudes etc to be very reflective of how a lot of people think, which is why so many people here relate to that music in the first place.  Dancehall, has been of particular interest to me for several years now and was even the focus of my Master’s thesis completed in 2010, so it was natural for me to want to explore the connection between dancehall, sexuality and HIV.

Many of the entertainers in the film were open about their “gallis” status. Do you think the documentary may have provided a forum for them to brag and try “top” each other?
I don’t think the entertainers interviewed regard their so-called “gallis status” as a competition.  They are very confident men and I get the impression that being a “gallis” is not done for external approval or bragging rights, but something that comes naturally to them because it is embedded in their culture.  As for trying to top each other, perhaps that could have been argued if the entertainers were interviewed together, which was not the case.  In fact, I never told them who else was participating.

There was focus on discrimination against homosexuality but it seemed like it could have been a separate film. I know typically film makers have so much footage they can’t get everything in. Was there suppose to be a separate segment on this?
“Man a Gallis” was divided into three segments. The first segment focused on the gallis as a womanizer and the implications of having multiple partners on the spread of HIV/AIDS.  The second segment was about the gallis as a man, who by virtue of loving women exclusively, maintains a de facto rejection of homosexuality, which is sometimes overtly expressed.  This segment sought to link the attitudes towards homosexuals to the behaviours of homosexuals; i.e., them not seeking out medical advice and/or condoms and lubricants for fear of being discriminated against and even physically attacked.  The final segment was on the efforts that have been made in dancehall to spread the message about HIV/AIDS and the responses to those efforts; for example, Carlene and Beenie’s affiliation with Slam and Kartel’s Daggerin’ condoms.  Initially, all three segments were to be approximately the same length; however, significant cuts had to be made to all segments in order to fit in the time allotted.  In the end, the segment on homosexuality was slightly longer than the other two, but not significantly so.

There were some hard hitting stats and commentary provided by Dr. Donna Hope in the documentary. Do you think the government of Jamaica is doing enough to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS in the heterosexual community?
I think the government needs to first make efforts to understand perceptions of sexuality, manhood and gender roles in targeted communities in order to have an effective campaign.  Lots of great work has been done by non-profits such as Jamaica AIDS Support for Life and the government has since come on board.  Where I find government’s response lacking, however, is in schools.  Kartel said in the documentary that it’s not his responsibility to teach children about HIV; it’s the Ministry of Education.  Unfortunately, the Ministry has not been proactive in ensuring this is on the curriculum in high schools, when young people are forming their attitudes and behaviours in regards to sex.

In what countries has the documentary premiered?  How has it been received by these audiences?
Man a Gallis has premiered in Jamaica, Barbados and Belize.  CBMP headquarters are in Barbados and they premiered it there on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2011.  It premiered on CVM TV in Jamaica and Channel 7 in Belize in January.  The feedback delivered to me personally has all been positive.  People were intrigued by the topic and also gripped by the storyline and the characters presented.  However, I’ve been following some of the comments online and a lot of people in both countries were upset about the discussion on homosexuality that formed part of the documentary.  They expressed the opinion that the documentary was promoting homosexuality and there was an agenda to try to force people to accept it.  This was not the intention.  As I said before, the intention was to examine the attitudes and see how and if this affects the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Both sides were given an opportunity to present their arguments, and I think they both did an effective job.

Will “Man a Gallis” be entered in any film festivals in the documentary category?
I’m currently seeking out opportunities to present it at film festivals. This is my first feature of this length, so this is all new to me.  So far I have one invitation to screen it at the Belize International Film Festival in July.  I’m certainly open to screening it anywhere else there’s an opportunity.  The more people see it, the better.

How long was it from concept to production?
Forever!  The call for projects was in January 2011 if I remember correctly.  I began working on it February.  I finished conducting all interviews and writing the script in May, then it was another couple months in post-production for editing, which was finished in August.  But since this was a project funded by an external party, there was quite a bit of red tape before we could finally air it.  It needed to be approved by several people, some of whom requested changes, and all of this took a while, so it wasn’t until December that it was fully approved and able to be televised.

Are you Jamaican? What is your connection to Jamaica?
I am from Belize.  I live and work in Jamaica.  I came here in 2008 to purse an M.A. in Communication Studies at CARIMAC, following which I started working at CVM TV.  Lots of opportunities have presented themselves to me in Jamaica, and so I have relocated my family here. I’m now at CEEN Caribbean News.

What is one of the main messages you wanted the documentary to convey?
The connection between culture and behavior.  People don’t invent their own behavior; it is learnt.  There are many forms of socialization, and as we learn in communication studies, media is only a secondary form.  Structures like the family, the church, schools and the community are the primary, and therefore most important, agents of socialization.  In my opinion, dancehall music is a reflection of a culture that already exists.  For that reason, it is unreasonable to use the music and the artistes as a scapegoat for the behavior that our children exhibit.

They say that creating documentaries is like sitting in a classroom learning about your subject. What are some of the thing you have learned doing this documentary?
Wow, so many!  Interviewing Vybz Kartel was like doing a culture study.  I found him to be very jovial, approachable, intelligent and easy to talk to.  Before doing the interview, I had a completely different impression of him, but it goes to show, as Carlene said, that these people are simply entertainers and are not always the character that they portray.

What other projects do you have planned for 2012?
I’m developing a project tentatively called “Perspectives”.  It would be a fully produced news magazine style program (think 20/20, Dateline).  I’m thinking it would air quarterly because of the volume of work required to produce something of this magnitude that maintains and even improves upon the quality of Man a Gallis.

What song is on replay on your mp3 player?
I’ve been listening to Jay Z and Kanye’s “No Church in the Wild” a lot lately.

What movie is on replay on your DVD?
I don’t have a DVD player either, but the last movie I watched was the latest Underworld movie.

Any advice for upcoming filmmakers?
Identify what you’re good at and hire other people to do the rest.  You can’t be an expert and do it all.  I’m a journalist and so I approached Man a Gallis from a content perspective and didn’t pay enough attention to the production of the project and how it would look, feel and sound on screen.  In hindsight, I should have hired a director.  Secondly, draft a timeline for your project at the very beginning and stick to it or your project can end up never being finished!

Thanks for your time. Do you you have any closing thoughts?
I really want people who watch Man a Gallis to do so with an open mind and know there was no hidden agenda.  I hope everyone is able to come away with a better perspective on the issue of HIV/AIDS and start to examine the things that have influenced their own behavior.

About the author

Xavier Murphy