The First Rasta | Chicago Reader

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Rated NR · 90 minutes · 2011

Reggae musician Bob Marley is probably most Americans' link to Rastafarianism; Leonard Percival Howell, founder of the Jamaican nationalist movement, remains largely unknown, yet this documentary by Hélène Lee, author of a French biography, and codirector Christophe Farnarier seems designed to enshroud Howell in myth. As a teen in the early 20th century, he went to sea, meeting other penniless adventurers and absorbing influences from Marxism to Harlem jazz; returning to Jamaica in the early 1930s, he spread an anticolonialist, messianic populism based on his veneration of the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, while advocating ganja for spiritual elevation. Scarcity of archival records may be partly to blame for the sketchy portrait, which draws heavily on contemporary interviews with stoned elderly followers.

See our full review: The not-so-dark continent

The not-so-dark continent

The African Diaspora International Film Festival screens 6/15-6/21 at Facets »

Director: Hélène Lee

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