Killmongering J’Ouvert

Screengrab of an Instagram video posted by American actor Michael B Jordan's as he launched his J'Ouvert rum. -
Screengrab of an Instagram video posted by American actor Michael B Jordan's as he launched his J'Ouvert rum. -

BEFORE this week, most people in this country probably knew US actor Michael B Jordan for his turn as Erik Killmonger, the villain in the global blockbuster film Black Panther.

But life imitated art on Sunday when Mr Jordan launched a new rum that paid tribute – at least lip service – to J’Ouvert, in the process making many see him as a real-life villain appropriating TT’s culture for his own benefit.

Mr Jordan has since apologised. He has said he will rename his J’Ouvert rum line, which had been widely promoted through his social media channels.

The promotion involved box sets that included a schematic of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, a written reference to Trinidad, a note on how to pronounce J’Ouvert, a description of it as a local celebration of Emancipation and Carnival, and even two bottles of this country’s iconic Angostura bitters.

Some may see Mr Jordan’s quashing of his plans on Tuesday as a victory of sorts.

But we think it is equally a loss to TT, which has missed a chance to benefit from the endorsement of a celebrity of international standing who was, until this week, enthusiastically promoting one of our marquee Carnival events. The products Mr Jordan touches routinely sell out.

There was justifiable annoyance over an awkward trademark filing that classed J’Ouvert as a word with “no meaning in a foreign language.”

But Mr Jordan and his team may have felt this designation the mere fulfilment of a legalism in order to begin exclusive trading. Such paperwork is par for the course and of specific application.

The filing nonetheless painted a picture of a group of people cavalierly overlooking the role of traditional cultural expressions and knowledge when it comes to intellectual property and much else.

This was certainly worsened by the fact that there was, as things stood, no direct fiduciary benefit to be gained by anyone in this country, including Angostura, from the merchandising of Mr Jordan’s rum.

But if there are grounds for seeing Mr Jordan – who is clearly a fan of this country, or at least was – as trying to appropriate a culture alien to him, there are equally grounds for disappointment that no local agency or entity sought to approach him to make use of the publicity coup he momentarily delivered for TT.

Government rightly expressed concern about these developments, but did not act speedily to change the circumstances to our potential benefit by trying to develop real linkages between Mr Jordan’s casually named rum and this country’s international profile.

Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon said she would gather information, approach a department of the Ministry of the Attorney General, and then further investigate. Angostura distanced itself. Other state agencies were silent.

The result? This possible opportunity has seemingly slipped away, much as Mr Killmonger does in Black Panther.


"Killmongering J’Ouvert"

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