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Movie Monday: Sand Dollars, A Depiction of Black Bodies in the Caribbean

This is one of my favorite films and it’s an honor reviewing a film of our closest neighbor in the Caribbean sea: the Dominican Republic. This poignant yet melancholic movie paints for us a picture of intimacy and beauty amid the poverty and prostitution that surrounds the life of Noeli, our protagonist who makes her living by entertaining and sleeping with the rich tourists that decide to spend their time on the beaches of the Dominican Republic. The movie focuses on her relationships with her unemployed boyfriend who lives off the money Noeli makes from escorting rich tourists and Anne, an older French woman of means. Their relationship is painted in a sympathetic manner as Anne, played by Geraldine Chaplin, is shown to want to return to France but stays in the Dominican Republic because she is hopelessly in love with Noel and drawn to the exotic nature of her body and youth.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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While it is difficult to say that Anne and Noel’s relationship is just that of benefactress and lover, as Noeli feels a certain comfort and protection with Anne’s presence, she still sees Anne as a means to an end for her to achieve economic privileges like money and the promise of a visa to take her away from the Dominican Republic. But at the same time, their relationship is mired with different promises and expectations that both Anne and Noeli have of each other which turns it into an unequal relationship filled with obsession, love, money, and power.

We are left uncertain to the fate of Anne and Noel’s lives and relationship with each other. While Anne is painted in a sympathetic and human-like manner, it’s clear that her obsession and love for Noeli stems from an over-sexualization of black bodies and from a place of control. And so Noeli regains herself towards the end as she leaves a sleeping Anne with money, her passport and visa on the back of Yeremi’s motorcycle toward an unknown destination finally free from the expectations and promises of Anne’s relationship with her.

This movie serves as not only a critique on how white tourism sees Caribbean bodies of color but on how insidious and horrible colonialism can be and on it has a continuing presence on the island despite it being a sovereign nation for almost a hundred years. This brand of neo-colonialism/orientalism (see: Edward Saïd) has effectively desensitized racist undertones in the way we see and present female bodies in film and in other media as well. Hopefully, with better education and more dialogue, we can hope to change how we talk about black bodies and female sexuality in the Caribbean media.

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