When you think of a Rastafari woman or man on TV what comes to mind? Weed smoking, Bob Marley playing in the background, dreadlocks and an over exaggerated patois accent.
Set amongst the thriving multi-cultural epicenter of South London, Alpha & Omega follows Imani, a devoted Rastafari, budding artist and health stall owner; who on learning of her life-changing breast cancer, begins to question her faith, her relationship and what it really means to be a Rastafarian.
We speak to Maia Watkins Writer and Lead Actress of Alpha & Omega about the experience that lead her to write this short film and women in the film industry.
In your own words, what is the purpose of this film?
I want people to self-reflect; and to take a journey with the main character, of consciousness and understanding of self, which is so rooted in Rastafari culture. I want the film to open up a dialogue about how cancer affects people from all backgrounds no matter their race, religion or age. These unique characters exist and their experiences need to be told. Cancer affects a lot of people, but I don’t think it’s ever been told through a Rastafari’s eyes.
What was the experience that influenced you to write this film?
The film was inspired by a dream I had about my Rastafari Godfather who was diagnosed with cancer over ten years ago. He told of a time his dreadlocks fell out whilst sitting on the toilet due to his chemotherapy treatment and this image stuck with me for many years. Sadly, he passed away last year. From a young age, I have always been interested in the holistic approaches to curing/preventing diseases and since the recent unexpected death of Dr Sebi (a Honduran vegetarian herbalist, healer and naturalist of holistic medicine), I have considered my own personal journey to health; physically, mentally and spiritually as a way of discovering well-being and peace. Whether it was through Rastafari or not, my personal experiences and life journey have played a part in leading me to write Alpha and Omega.
Do you feel the film industry is now more inclusive in terms of including more women of colour and exposing them to more opportunities?
The industry is getting there slowly but I think that is mainly due to women of colour taking the leap on their own to create, collaborate and tell their stories without waiting or asking for permission from the industry. We all know that the industry hardly takes risks on stories like mine as they are wary that there won’t be a big enough commercial audience for it. A lot of films do not feature a significant representation of women of colour in front of and behind the camera so people just assume we don’t exist even though the majority of the world’s population are people of colour. Over the years, the film/TV industry has become more aware and educated about inclusion and I believe BAFTA have a new rule where works that do not demonstrate inclusivity in their production practices will no longer be eligible for certain awards. This isn’t a result but more a starting point as there is still a long way to go.
Alpha & Omega portrays the life of a Rastafari woman which we rarely see on our screens. Do you think the entertainment industry is ignorant in portraying such roles and what qualifies you to represent this accurately?
The entertainment industry is ignorant in portraying these roles as they either don’t understand the Rastafari culture or only have a particular view of what it means to be a Rasta. When people consider Rastafari they think of Jamaica, Bob Marley, weed smoking and reggae music. Many are ignorant to its movement, standard of living and origins. This film explores the everyday lifestyle of a woman in London whose identity, faith and strength is tested. It just so happens that the lead is a Rasta woman living a holistic ‘ital’ way of life, something that is never spoken about or explored. Several of my family members are Rasta’s, so I’ve been exposed to the lifestyle and beliefs for a long time. Since losing many people to cancer, I’ve begun to take an interest in educating myself in both holistic and western treatments/medicines and seeing the benefits and disadvantages of both. Starting my personal exploration of Rastafari and health, I’ve been immersing myself in research and have actively sought Afro-Caribbean elders to learn from, because telling this experience truthfully has always been vital to the script.
What do you hope people will take away from Alpha & Omega?
I read in a recent study that one in two people in the UK are now likely to develop some form of cancer or know someone who does. The statistics are shocking, and I hope that with this film, I can help drive a discussion for people to talk about their health more, and not be afraid to seek help and support from loved ones when needed. Particularly in the Afro-Caribbean community, there’s always been an underlying stigma that speaking about personal health is a weakness, and I want to change that mindset. Finally, I want Alpha & Omega to open people’s eyes about what Rastafari is. Yes, there are unique aspects to our lifestyles, and certain things that we do as a part of our culture, but at the end of the day we’re just ordinary people who laugh, cry, and feel the same pains as everyone else out there.