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Thursday 19 July 2018
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Commentary

Hands off Winston Duke

DEBBIE JACOB

OUT OF ALL the useless noise that prevails in this country came one of the most profound statements I have heard in a very long time, and it came from Tobagonian actor Winston Duke’s mom, Cora Pantin.

According to the Internet article I recently read, Pantin had reacted to criticism of her son, who portrays the character M’Baku in the Black Panther movie based on the Marvel Comics. The static came when Duke did not correct US television host Kelly Rippa when she mispronounced Tobago.

Duke’s mother said, “What are we doing as a people, why are we always adapting such trifling arguments? Why should he correct her? And then this morning you will hear Winston have no manners. That is not how he was trained,” she said, noting that if he insulted Rippa he could possibly have lost the chance to get other interviews.

Duke’s mom is right in saying good manners should always prevail, but what is more important is that she’s right for pointing out that in a country with big issues, people get caught up in the most insignificant arguments that solve no issues at all.

I am reminded constantly of a line in the movie Lawrence of Arabia when Peter O’Toole, who plays TE Lawrence, speeches off some tribesman telling them, “As long as you remain divided, you will remain a little, petty people.”

I am constantly blown away by the bandwagon culture we have. Whenever we excel at sports or someone makes a breakthrough – like Duke – we don’t really rally around those people and become supportive. We elevate them to a place where we feel entitled to jump on their platform and wave a national flag – or better yet, mount flags on our cars so we can feel proud as we practise bad-driving everyone in our paths.

Once the team loses or the sports figure fails to win, we dive off that platform with the speed of one of those Olympic high divers. We don’t stick around to offer any support. Pride goes down the drain, and we begin tearing apart all the person’s accomplishments.

Please note I am including myself in this conversation – even though I don’t engage in such pettiness but because I think it might be a little easier to digest these arguments if I hold your hand through this column by including myself.

It doesn’t seem to me that it has dawned on people in this country that Winston Duke doesn’t have to go around singing the praises of Trinidad and Tobago to anyone. He does this because he chooses to do it. He does it because he is proud of his roots and his country. This in itself seems remarkable because almost everyone I know doesn’t have any positive things to say about this country right now with the exception of Carnival being “nice.” Many people are embarrassed with how this crime-ridden, dysfunctional, insolent and indolent-ridden country is being perceived in the world right now, and yet here is this affable, young man who thinks of his country in the midst of his skyrocketing fame.

His mother asked why we are losing sight of all the positive attention her son brings to this country just because he refused to embarrass a television host for mispronouncing Tobago. She’s right. We have bigger fish to fry than the pronunciation of Tobago. I am guessing that Duke has done more for Tobago tourism than the Government, and I’m willing to bet that the Government won’t even be able to figure out how to capitalise on that.

I see how other cities and other countries package their history and their culture, and we, who have so much history, seem to be clueless how to do that.

For the last 30 years, I have pitied the tourists who step off those cruise ships in Port of Spain. What are they supposed to see in town?

Worse yet is how they are herded on buses to go around the Savannah to see what: renovations of President’s House and the dilapidated state of other historical houses around the Savannah? Where’s a decent calypso museum or our equivalent to a year-round Broadway show? Why is a little country like Barbados better at packaging its history than us?

We can’t even provide decent transportation between Trinidad and Tobago. No, my advice as this country continues to embarrass itself is this: hands off Winston Duke. Right now, he’s providing a positive image that we don’t deserve.

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