Carnival, Consent and Visibility
I’m tired of non-Caribbean people speaking on Caribbean culture.
Carnival is an exciting time of year where people get together to celebrate their culture. However, sadly, many encounter the parts of Caribbean culture that have been boiled and stripped down to
gentrified Bob Marley tees and wearing the Rastafarian colors with no actual idea what they
stand for. Naturally, the few glimpses of culture that the general public are met with disperse a lot of
confusion and opinions.
I, as a daughter to Caribbean parents, am super grateful to artists like Rihanna. She’s arguably
one of the biggest celebrity platforms, and she makes no secret about her heritage and customs,
being a constant at Crop Over festivities on her native island in addition to incorporating island beats into many of her songs. She fully represents herself and her culture as a unit and it’s so appreciated.
Recently, actor John Boyega came under fire for a video he posted of him at Notting Hill
Carnival, in which he’s enjoying a whine from a woman outfitted in Carnival attire. The internet
wasted no time in labeling him sexist, trying to find outrage for the woman he’s dancing with…
however, most of the write ups that have come from people bothered by the video are referring to
the woman as “scantily clad,” which is in a way trying to shame her and it’s all very tiring.
Whether you’re at Caribana, Crop Over, Spicemas or J’ouvert; you’re going to encounter one or
more of these elements, such as “Playing Mas,” which entails many of the detailed costumes
with wings and ornately feathered headpieces. You’re also very likely to see a steel band or
multiple competing steel band groups, calypso music as well as some dancehall music and
people dancing. The up-tempo music of the islands is said to be a descendant of tribal music
from Africa and many of its movements do show the ties that have branched off into their own
culture and focal point. Whining thus became a cultural point of its own. A good whine (wine,
depending on who you talk to), is part of Caribbean culture. Now we’re talking whine as in a
gyration of the hips. There are many songs that encourage folks to get creative with how they
whine and dance at parties. It’s fun. What’s not fun is seeing people with absolutely no
knowledge on the subject trying to think piece and dissect everything about your culture.
Firstly, the woman’s costume was attacked for being scanty and provocative. Many wouldn’t
know that Mas camps literally spend a year working on all the different costumes you’ll see men
and women proudly wearing. There are different groups that have specific colors that they use in
their costumes so that you can differentiate the camps. It’s an honor to be able to represent the
different camps in their mas wears.
How can getting together to bond over aspects of shared heritage with some fun music be a
problem? Well, look no further than how John Boyega and this woman were attacked for
dancing, because she was bent over? Most likely for balance, but it’s well known ESPECIALLY
at Carnival- CONSENT IS EVERYTHING. If John was dancing with that woman, it’s because
she was okay with it and from the video posted, it’s super obvious he was respectful of her, only
enjoying the dance and not groping her or saying lewd things to her… which let’s be honest,
isn’t happening at many clubs around the world. The point of Carnival is for everyone to have a
good time and bond over their heritage.
I’ve written about platform and responsibility in the past, but never where it intersects with
people living their regular lives. Many were quick to remind John that he represents “Disney” or
“Star Wars” because that’s the company behind the super successful project he was a part of.
While I understand the concern, Star Wars isn’t filming at the moment and John wasn’t out there
in his costume from set. He’s on vacation, enjoying his heritage and he wanted to share a bit of
The response he received isn’t new and many celebrities or public figures have endured the same
thing and just chosen not to share anything with the general public, which then lends to cries of
people not being “relatable.” However, John took it in stride, going so far as to crack jokes about
needing a stunt double for all the offers for dances he’s gotten for next year.
Ultimately, there needs to be more education about different cultures. In no way am I condoning
harmful practices, but there are some cultures that aren’t as mainstream as you would think
although you see facets of them. All in all, we do well when we expand our knowledge of
different cultures and their celebrations.
Written by Aubri Elle