In this essay I explore the Jamaican and Jamaican diasporic urban crime films that have appeared over the past fifty years. In these films, downtown Kingston, the impoverished inner-city of Jamaica’s capital, has been commonly portrayed as an ambivalent crime-ridden-but-music-driven space, violent yet vibrant. First, I place these Jamaican ghetto films in the context of the wider tradition of the black urban crime film that appeared in parallel with the liberation movements in Latin America and Africa from the 1950s and developed in dialectic with black city cinema and accented cinema in North America and Europe from the 1970s. Then, I present the history of the Jamaican urban crime film in two parts. The first part contains a discussion of the development of the genre from the 1970s until the 1990s, starting with The Harder They Come (1972) and some immediate successors and ending with Dancehall Queen (1997) and Third World Cop (1999), the two most successful Jamaican films to date. In the second part, I discuss the low-budget “gangsta” films made by Jamaican American filmmakers since the 2000s, as well as the bigger-budget (trans)national productions that were either partially or completely set in Kingston throughout the 2010s, with Yardie (2018) as most recent example. Taking into account the production and reception of these films, I will use the concept of reggae-ghetto aesthetics to characterize the portrayal of downtown Kingston in Jamaican city cinema.

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Arts & Culture Studies

Martens, E. (Emiel). (2019). From The Harder They Come to Yardie: The Reggae-Ghetto Aesthetics of the Jamaican Urban Crime Film. Interventions. doi:10.1080/1369801X.2019.1659160