Seeing ourselves on screen

TT actor Michael Cherrie at the premier of Netflix's Shirley in Los Angeles at the Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood, on March 19. -
TT actor Michael Cherrie at the premier of Netflix's Shirley in Los Angeles at the Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood, on March 19. -

As you scroll through the sea of films on Netflix this Easter weekend, you might see a familiar face: Michael Cherrie.

Mr. Cherrie appears in Shirley, a biopic about Shirley Chisholm, the first woman to run for the US presidential nomination in a major political party.

It’s not the first time a Trinidadian has made waves on the big screen. Scroll a little further and you might find Heather Headley starring in Sweet Magnolias. Or dive over to Disney+, and you’ll see Martina Laird in The Little Mermaid; Winston Duke in Black Panther.

But Mr. Cherrie’s accomplishment is unique because he secured the role of Conrad Chisholm notwithstanding being based in TT.

He is to be congratulated for his feat. We heartily applaud him. But the local actor’s appearance in this film is also significant simply given the calibre of the international cast, led by Oscar- and Emmy-winner Regina King.

The story told in the film – of Ms. Chisholm’s failed bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination in 1972 – is also one that meets the moment. It reminds us of the intersectionality of politics and global identity at a time of extreme jingoism.

Ms. Chisholm was born in New York to immigrant parents and was of Afro-Guyanese and Afro-Barbadian descent.

Conrad, her first husband, was a Jamaican migrant. That an actor like Mr. Cherrie plays this role is fitting. His supporting performance is nuanced and layered, in a film that reminds us how small the world is.

But if this actor gives us reason to celebrate, we should not take this as a sign of miracles being worked when it comes to the plight of the local entertainment industry.

Mr. Cherrie’s own long career is a reminder of the dues all still must pay. He has graced our television screens before, playing Roy Sutherland in Westwood Park, which aired in the 1990s. Shirley is also not his first international credit, having also appeared in the 2001 Merchant Ivory film The Mystic Masseur, an adaptation of a VS Naipaul novel written for the screen by Caryl Phillips.

Before all this, Mr. Cherrie appeared in theatrical productions for decades. At one stage, he worked with Sir Peter Hall, the legendary British director, in The Final Passage.

The TT Film Company Ltd has hailed Mr. Cherrie’s role as a milestone and as an example of the talent this country has to offer.

But that substantial pool of incredibly diverse talent remains largely underserved, as witnessed by the stagnation in the theatre sector and even the dearth of high-quality film productions produced locally.

What Mr. Cherrie has done is to remind us of how, even when the odds are against them, our stars still find ways to shine.


"Seeing ourselves on screen"

More in this section