New Jamaican series Chill breaking LGBTQ stigma with openly gay character

Chill character Mrs. Gusto played by Sharee McDonald Russel

Michael Holgate’s latest web series Chill is exposing Jamaicans to a host of fresh characters and new story lines, which, for some, is long overdue.

Pandering to millennial sensibilities, Chill is at the start of a cinematic diversity revolution, as Holgate casts an openly gay character and explores a range of modern societal issues.

According to Holgate, Chill at its core is ‘edu-tainment’ aimed at promoting empowerment and well being, which is the larger objective of the Ashe Company, which is responsible for the production of the series.

“The series looks at some of the same issues that we would have been looking at from before with young people: how they navigate the world of sex and sexuality, how they navigate the world of relationships, how they deal with family and family issues, how family issues affects their mental health, their relationship choices, their sexual choices and their overall health. That’s basically what Ashe has spent a lot of time doing,” Holgate told BUZZ.

Scene from Chill with character Clara played by Ackeria Smith

He explained that his target market for the series is millennials and Gen Zers, who he noted were craving a high-quality local production.

According to Holgate, these demographic groups influenced his character development choices. He noted that they are, in part, the reason why he chose to include Robert – the show’s openly gay character.

Holgate explained that Robert’s character is very flamboyant – on purpose – as he represents a part of the sexual diversity that is present in Jamaican society.

“It’s a personality that’s here in Jamaica. And so many [local] productions are afraid to even think or to hint at it. We’ll watch Empire; we’ll watch Spartacus; we’ll watch anything and everything that has any kind of content that shows different types of male sexual diversity. Yet, it must not be seen in a Jamaican production, although you have that range of people here in Jamaica,” Holgate argued.

“At what point in time… this is 2021… At what point in time does a Jamaican writer, director or production company decide that you can write about anything, and showcase anything and show the reality of what is happening in Jamaica, and especially because we know that one of the things that drives the HIV epidemic is MSMs?” questioned Holgate.

The writer and director explained that men having sex with men is something that the Jamaican society is still shy to talk about, noting that it is necessary to have such openness if we are to eradicate the HIV epidemic.

According to Holgate, presenting fresh characters in tune with the current Jamaican reality is not only necessary to appeal to a younger audience but necessary to enable certain conversations.

He added that it wasn’t about promoting a certain agenda, but was about being authentic and representative of society as it is.

“To create characters who were true to life, real life, like the aunty weh yuh have, the mother weh yuh nuh want to talk about, the Jamaican grandma, the best friend that’s in everybody’s business, the landlord who thinks they own the world… I wanted to create these characters that were memorable and authentic,” explained Holgate.

Scene from Chill showcasing Mama aka Mrs Watkins played by Taunia Flowers

He added that it was the drive to have art reflect life and be authentic that also drove how he developed the female characters in the cast, which, he said, break from tradition and tend to be stronger personalities with more substance and depth.

“I really wanted to show a range of female characters – not the typical female characters that you’re used to, like the girl a look a man and the most important thing in her world is to find a man who can love her and blah, blah, blah, blah,” said Holgate. “I wanted it to be a guy who was going crazy and bonkers for a girl. And this girl, she operates with men in the same way that a lot of men operate with women. I wanted to create that switch. That’s how I think, as a writer and as a director, you can’t stay in the same vein, in the same structure of a thing, and help people to see the thing differently,” he added.

Chill scene showing Carissa played by Afryea Cox talking to former lover Jevaughn played by Rudyard Mears

Chill premiered on March 1 on YouTube. The series, which airs every Monday at 6:30pm, will run for 13 weeks.