Queens World Film Festival: Q&A with director Micah Fink on The Abominable Crime

Director Micah Fink takes an in-depth look into the cultural struggle over sexuality in Jamaica in an eye-opening documentary called The Abominable Crime.1 The film was featured at the Queens World Film Festival at the Secret Theater on Thursday night and Fink had 15 minutes of Q&A with the audience after the screening.

Before we get to the Q&A, here is a quick synopsis of the film:2

THE ABOMINABLE CRIME, at heart, is a story about a mother’s love for her child and an activist’s troubled love for his country. It also gives voice to gay Jamaicans who, in the face of endemic anti-gay violence, are forced to flee their homeland.

Simone, a young lesbian single mother, survives a brutal anti-gay shooting. Now she must choose between hiding with her daughter in Jamaica in constant fear for their lives or escaping alone to seek safety and asylum abroad.

Maurice, Jamaica’s leading human-rights activist, is outed shortly after filing a lawsuit challenging his country’s anti-sodomy law. After receiving a flood of death threats, he escapes to Canada, and then risks everything to return to continue his activism.

Told first hand as they unfold, these personal accounts take the audience on an emotionally gripping journey traversing four years and five countries. Their stories expose the roots of homophobia in Jamaican society, reveal the deep psychological and social impacts of discrimination on the lives of gays and lesbians, and offer an intimate first-person perspective on the risks and challenges of seeking asylum abroad.

Q: I didn’t know a lot about what was going on in Jamaica before I saw this. What inspired you to produce a film about this topic?

A: I stumbled across it. I’ve made a lot of films about public health. I’ve done a lot of films about epidemics including HIV/AIDS and the Avian flu. I was asked by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporter to go to the Caribbean to do a film about HIV and AIDS. When I started to look into it, I found that Jamaica was reporting the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the Western Hemisphere, particularly in the gay community where their Ministry of Public Health had found a 32 percent infection rate among gay men. That means that one out of every three gay men in Jamaica is HIV positive, which is a staggering number. It’s almost unbelievable. And so the question became what could possibly create that kind of infection rate on such a small Island? What are the forces driving the epidemic? And as we peeled away the layers, it became clear that a number of cultural factors we at the heart of the epidemic: One was their anti-sodomy law, another key factor was a religious culture of homophobia. While I was doing that work, I came across Simone. She had such a compelling story and her relationship with her daughter was so powerful — and it quickly became clear to me that she was going to find some way out of Jamaica. So, sort of accidentally, a film that just grew out of that scene. I, like many of you, had no idea that this was the reality in Jamaica. Interesting, this film has now been screened around the country and world at this point, and what we’ve been hearing that is what’s true in Jamaica is true in many places throughout the Caribbean. In Belize, Puerto Rico. The Dominican Republic. These intense experiences of homophobia and discrimination are not unique to Jamaica, although very seldom discussed outside of those communities.

Q. This was a very touching ending as it relates to Simone, but it really appears from the statistics at the end that the homophobic violence is getting worse, would you agree?

A. I think it is part of the current reality. Maurice and I had traveled a fair amount for the film and talked to different audiences. Maurice himself is sort of a controversial figure in the gay Jamaican community because he’s being so open about these things, and he’s speaking so openly about homophobia and discrimination. And he’s trying to challenge the anti-sodomy law publicly and Maurice’s efforts are being widely reported in the newspapers and on TV. On the other hand, you’re seeing just an upsurge in homophobia and violence and public marches and protests by Church groups. The push to openness is creating a reaction. We’ve had a lot of conversations about Maurice’s tactics – and in some ways it’s very similar to the Civil Rights movement in the United States in the 50s and 60s. You had people that said, ‘Just get along, be quiet, things will get better slowly.’ And then you had other voices in that community that said, ‘No, you have to stand up for this and fight for our rights.’ Maurice has taken the approach, ‘they’re going to kill us anyway, so you have to stand up.’ And the violence does seem to be increasing.

Q. In some of the interviews with government officials, they seemed very open about their anti-gay views. Was there any particular way you interviewed them that evoked these kinds of responses?

A. Jamaica has long been recognized as one of the most violently homophobic countries in the world. And it’s only recently that reports of what’s happening in Uganda and Nigeria and Russia, particularly with their embrace of anti-gay laws the violence against the gay community as these political efforts galvanize the society against the LBGT community. Unfortunately, Jamaica has been living that reality now for 20 or 30 years. It was one of the first countries to feel the force of the Christian Evangelical missionaries who came and made sexuality one of the forefronts of the culture war, and it became one of the principal ways of defining what makes you Christian, and what makes you not Christian. With Jamaica being such a religious country, it really went to the core of the culture, and now you’re seeing the way these years of homophobic preaching manifests itself in laws – and in grass roots violence against the gay community. Amazingly in Jamaica, when you speak to people like Ernie Smith, who are part of the government, they’re proud of this position. Their homophobia really is grounded in their interpretation of the Bible, and people have absolutely no qualms about telling you that this is absolutely wrong and that it must be condemned in the strongest possible ways. What’s amazing to me is that religious minister who speaks in the film, Herro Blair, really is considered one of the most respected peacemakers in Jamaica. He led warring political factions and drug gangs into an accord with the government, and even he tells us that homosexuality could cause the extinction of all humanity. If that’s the rhetoric of even the moderate public voices, you can only imagine what gets said in more extreme environments. So people in Jamaica are very straightforward when you ask them their opinions. One of the things that I really love about Jamaicans is that they will tell you exactly what they think.

The Abominable Crime is available to purchase on DVD for home use, community screenings, and for academic institutions.

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