Revered Dancehall Queen Carlene Smith doesn’t regret turning down a role in the 1997 film classic Dancehall Queen.
Smith said she was approached to play a lead role in the film but was displeased with the representation of women.
“When the movie was being done, I had a meeting with the writer and one of the directors and when I got to the meeting and they gave me part of the script to read I said, ‘Are you crazy? I’m not playing this’,” Smith said in a recent appearance on the Wizology Show. “Remember now, I went to school – tertiary and otherwise. I’ve never had to sleep with a man for money. My father made sure we were quite fine as a child, he gave us a start. I owned a car at 16 years old. I’ve never lived in poverty where certain things had to be done so when I read the script I said to the guy ‘I can’t be a part of this’. He says, ‘What happen?’ – ‘because these aren’t Jamaican people’ I said… ‘because this is degrading’.”
The movie is centered around Marcia, a single mother who has fallen on hard times and turns to dancing competitions to provide for her family.
Also in the film is the reigning dancehall queen, Olivene, who is portrayed as a fly girl with men wrapped around her finger.
“I’m not a movie, I am the dancehall queen so you can’t ask me to play [it]. These were the two main characters: the girl who is dancehall queen reigning has one man driving out and a next man driving in, if you remember, the character I would play,” Smith explained.
“So they’re depicting her as a whore indirectly, and the winner who is gonna win has three children, who is played by Audrey Reid, for three different men and gave one of her children to a grown-a** man and had a handcart that she was pushing. Which part of the movie do I fit in?”
She said while many folks viewed it as an opportunity to expand her career, she prioritised her values.
“A lot of people still think that’s my character from the movie because I am the original dancehall queen… Yes, it’s a good deal but it’s a bad image,” she argued.
“There’s nothing in that movie’s message that’s good about women – nothing. You have to have sex for money to be something? No… I just don’t speak about it so people don’t know and probably think you are jealous or were badminded as they would like to use. No. I was first approached but people don’t think deep.”
Smith said she also did not like the idea of ‘dancehall women’ clashing against each other as her 1992 brainchild saw uptown women competing against dancehall women.
Though she did not appear in the movie, her then spouse deejay Beenie Man made cameo appearances. Smith said, however, that he was displeased with the original script that represented her in a promiscuous way.
“Every man I’ve been with, I’ve been in the public – away from the ones that they give me that I have no clue about… My partner at the time was mad because he went to them not knowing I turned it down so when he came home and said, ‘Why you didn’t…’ I said, ‘You didn’t ask me’. I told him, ‘No, you do your part, that’s okay. I’m not gonna try to change you from doing what needs to be done’.”
Reflecting on her legacy, Smith is proud of her contribution to dancehall and likened herself to cultural icons.
“Like everything that is new and first introduced, you’ll never have it replicated. I would put myself in Louise Bennett position…Bob Marley, icons that have created something. There are so many other reggae stars after Bob Marley but none like Bob Marley, he started this. And I’ll also say the great King Yellowman, there’s none after him. There’s others but you are the first. You’ll always be the most outstanding.”