Working in her hometown of Kingston, Rebecca “Becx” Williams (she/her) is a filmmaker aiming to cultivate a voice for young people in Jamaica and beyond. Her debut film, Out of Many, premiered at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival this September, and shares the story of Asha, the teenage daughter of a politician who is left to grapple with a strange occurrence in her upper-class community. Rebecca hopes to experience a Jamaica that can provide resources to filmmakers and artists—”…what needs to happen is that there needs to be more support for Jamaican writers, Jamaican screenwriters, Jamaican directors. People need to trust us more than they do now, because people have great ideas!” Looking forward, Rebecca wants to be known as a prolific artist that pushes boundaries and brings originality to whichever medium she seeks to explore.
What medium(s) do you work in?
I work in film, I work in photography, and I also write and paint. My brain has been occupied with ceramics for the last couple of weeks, so I’m obsessed with that right now.
How long have you been involved in filmmaking, and what influenced you to pursue it?
I made my first film with my best friend in 2013, and I was fifteen at the time. I feel like I had been interested in filmmaking since I was about thirteen, so as soon as I became a teenager, I realized that photography and film was something I wanted to do. What really inspired me was my research of film and photography because in Jamaica we get blockbusters all the time, so for me to get into movies the way I did, I had to scour the internet for indie movies.
I’ve always been a creative person, and when I was a kid, I used to perform, act, and dance. I’ve always been interested in the creative industry, and I feel like I found film because it’s a combination of the things that I love, which are music, performance, and lighting. So many things go into film that I love, so it was obvious that it would be my main thing. Music videos are also something that made me want to make videos in general because I felt they were so cool!
In a previous interview you said you conceptualized the film after you experienced something strange while driving, similar to Asha’s experience in the film. Can you elaborate more on this experience that led towards the creation of Out of Many.
I was driving on Norbrook Road, the road that Asha references in the movie, and I didn’t see what she saw, which was the body of a streetcleaner, but I saw a group of people surrounding a lifeless body. There had been no police, so it was something that just happened, and I remember seeing that and thinking it was really strange, but I was driving alone, and I just kept driving. It wasn’t like it greatly affected my mood for the rest of the day because that wasn’t the first time I had seen a dead body, but it was interesting because I’ve never seen a dead body on Norbrook Road. I don’t know if you get what I mean when I’m referencing Norbrook Road, but Norbrook is Uptown and a high-income residential neighborhood. Seeing a dead body in Norbrook is a rare thing, and you never really expect violence to be in Norbrook because senators and past prime ministers live there.
That’s really why it was strange to me because there’s this contrast, and it’s like this body was superimposed onto the grass in Norbrook. It was strange to see those two things existing at the same time, and I was able to witness it before the police even got there. This is something that happened seconds before I went down that road, so just the fact that I was able to see something so intimate was something that held on and stayed in the back of my head. I reapproached it with Asha and thought: what would my response be if I was someone else, had grown up differently, or was from a different socio-economic background?
Themes surrounding class and social hierarchies in contemporary Jamaican are foundational in Out of Many; why did you think it was important to explore this theme through the perspective of Jamaican’s affluent minority?
I haven’t seen this perspective reflected in Jamaican film, not as much as I think it needs to be because it’s something that’s a blemish on Jamaican society. So little have so much, and it’s something that people don’t want to talk about. It’s a flaw of Jamaica that the class divide is problematic and dangerous, so I felt like I wanted to say something about it since nobody else is saying anything.
Also, I really couldn’t tell this story from another perspective because it wouldn’t be genuine. I’m a big believer in people telling their own stories and having the power to tell their own stories instead of being exploited for someone else’s story. That’s definitely why this perspective was important to me. Asha is also a politician’s daughter, and I feel that no one has ever respected a teenage girl’s opinion on politics. I felt it was an interesting peephole into a way bigger problem in Jamaica.
It’s admirable that you decided to do that because it’s so common for filmmakers and artists from different backgrounds to make stories about experiences that aren’t theirs. The fact that you did it in a way where you’re also commenting on this taboo subject in Jamaica is really important. On an island like that, it’s common to have stories about poverty and violence because that is a huge narrative there.
It’s a part of Jamaican culture that has a lot of nuance to it. A lot of it has to do with race, but there’s also colorism, classism, elitism—there’s a lot at play. There are just so many perspectives that you can look at the same problem from, and I’m interested to see different perspectives.
Classics like Shottas, Dancehall Queen, and The Harder They Come, have permeated the Jamaican scene, but contemporary Jamaican films haven’t gotten the push into mainstream or haven’t received much cult success. What is the creative landscape looking like in Jamaica now? What’s needed to support filmmakers and other artists there?
More people are getting into the creative industry, and people are taking it more seriously than they did before. I think we have eons to go to get where we need to be, but people are really happy when they get Jamaican products, but are very scared to invest in it early on. Those movies that you mentioned before, even my professor would speak about them. That’s been the image of Jamaica that America has had for a while, just because no other film has been able to sort of cross that boundary to be in the minds of other people as a legitimate representation of Jamaica. I think what needs to happen is that there needs to be more support for Jamaican writers, Jamaican screenwriters, Jamaican directors. People just need to trust us more than they do now, because people have great ideas!
I’m always talking to my friends and people on set, and they have amazing ideas, but there’s no funding for it, and no one is looking to Jamaica for film. Internationally, Jamaica has so much influence in music and art, but it’s so weird to me that in Jamaica itself, it’s so hard to get projects like Out of Many running, going, and completed when we have such great influence otherwise. Jamaica’s greatest export is culture, and we get so much tourism because people want to be here, but I think people are still unfamiliar with it. People with real power and the real money to get things off the ground are still so unfamiliar with the creative landscape and what it means to support an artist. I don’t think they understand the needs of artists.
Do you plan on staying there for your career? Or do you want to go back to where you were studying?
This has been a question I’ve been thinking about so personally. In an ideal world, I would be able to be based in Kingston and be here for most of the year, while traveling to make movies, but it’s such a common thing for Jamaicans to get so fed up with Jamaica that we either go to the U.S. or we go to the UK. It’s been that way since slavery ended, that has been something so culturally ingrained into our brains that only real opportunity is in the U.S. or the U.K. I don’t want to get caught up in that, but the more I do live in Jamaica, it would be easier for me to go to the U.S. and be a director for some media company. That would be so much easier because there are regulations about filmmaking, people understand it more, and there’s more of a language about it there, and more of an industry and actual foundation—but I don’t know! Jamaica is just so rich, like how could I leave here? Every time I leave here, I think, why did I leave? But every time I’m here, I understand why I left because it’s so much harder to get things done in Jamaica than it would be in the U.S. or the U.K. I’m actively trying to change that, but I’m just one person.
The film ends with Asha crying in church, leaving me with many questions surrounding how she reconciles with her experience the night before and whether or not she continues to challenge herself and her community as she comes to terms with her privileged life. What did you want your audience to take away from the film? Where does Asha go from here?
I feel like only now after the film I’ve considered that. When Asha cries at the church, it’s like the tipping point where she has to accept that her life has changed because of the event, but she’s also incredibly confused about how her life is going to change or if she will continue to suppress her emotions. I don’t know if I know what Asha does, but I hope she does the right thing. Maybe if I thought about it a bit, I would know. I created her, so I should know. She looks at the audience at the end, so it’s more about what do you think she’s going to do. Whatever you think she’s going to do is very indicative of who you are as a person.
When you’re not making art, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to do photography, and I do a lot of shoots. I like writing, I like reading, and painting. Painting is something that I don’t think about as much, but with writing, I have a whole process and I like working towards something, while painting is mostly a color expression for me. I don’t think I’m ever not creating art, because it was my hobby that I turned into my career. I’ve been reading more about post-emancipation Jamaica, the sociology behind it, and what people were thinking and doing right after slavery was abolished and into independence. I think it was an interesting time in Jamaica because it formed Jamaica, and a lot of the ideals and customs withheld now. I want to know more about why we do the things we do, why our political system is the way it is, and where things went wrong.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
First, I would start with Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) because he does so many things and is excellent at all of them, and that’s something I aspire to be even a fraction of. I also love Atlanta because it’s so specific and so funny— Hiro Murai does a lot of the cinematography, and Ibra Ake does a lot of the writing. The team inspires me because they also do a lot of music videos together like the This Is America video. Beyonce and Solange Knowles; anything they do artistically is so inspirational to me. Barry Jenkins; Moonlight changed my life! Luca Guadagnino, he’s an Italian director, and his movies are just so beautiful and the subject matter is always something that I’ve never seen before.
Renell Medrano, she’s a great photographer; Daniel Arnold, he’s a street photographer. I think all of those people are pushing their chosen genres—Beyonce just made Black is King with Disney Plus! That is so huge, and it was an amazing movie as well! Even her Homecoming documentary was amazing. I feel like anyone who is doing multiple things and still managing to succeed in those things are people who inspire me. I do photography, I do film, I write, and I would love to be excellent at all.
Where do you see yourself and your practice in the future?
I want to be able to say that I’m a prolific artist and that’s something I’m actively working towards. I also want to cement my own artistic voice within the next few years. I want to explore new themes and to really push any box people would have me in; that’s something I want to always do. I don’t want to ever create something that reminds me of anything else! People say that original ideas are dead, but I don’t think so because we all live different lives and have all gone through several different things. Exploring what it means to be a human and what it means to be a young person in the modern day, in the past, and the future— that’s something I want to keep exploring but in very different ways because I don’t want to be known for doing one thing. I want for when someone thinks about the work I’ve done that there’s several reference points.
Provide a few tips that may be helpful for young artists?
Write down ideas even if you think they’re dumb or anything that comes to you in a dream. It’s very important to keep documentation even if they’re just bullet points, and even if you think it’s not going to be worth it. Another thing is to be open to inspiration. We all have like our favorite people that we go to and our favorite type of shows, but don’t be afraid to kind of look outside things that you would usually come across because it gives a better perspective; always try to see things from different perspectives. If you think about a story from this perspective, think about what the story would look like from an opposite person.
Watch media that is not just produced in the U.S. or the UK—watch French cinema or watch Australian shows. Watching that type of stuff has given me a better idea of what the film industry looks like internationally instead of just Hollywood. We really look to Hollywood because that’s the core of the industry, right? But there’s so much more interesting stuff on the periphery that gets lost. The film industry is bigger than a Marvel movie, so go and discover that.
Excellent Interview. I hope she will accomplish all her goals!