Queens filmmaker Selena Blake confronts Jamaican homophobia head-on in ‘Taboo Yardies’

Blake’s documentary tells harrowing tales of violence against homosexuals on the Caribbean island

It took Queens filmmaker Selena Blake four years to complete ‘Taboo Yardies’, a documentary about homophobia on the island of Jamaica.

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It took four years, cost her friends and family and almost the roof over her head, but Queens based documentary filmmaker Selena Blake got her latest project done.

The film, “Taboo Yardies,” about homophobia in Jamaica, West Indies, and its costs to the island nation, is well worth the wait.

It’s a powerful collection of haunting images, each more powerful, and memorable, than the last: the anger in the voices of two pre-teen boys lounging on the steps of a darkened house as they disdainfully assert that gay men should be stoned; the middle-aged man who describes how he, newly arrived in New York, saw two men kissing near Penn Station and his amazement when his brother stopped him from looking for a brick to throw at them, saying “they don’t do that here.”

There is the painful story of a lesbian who tearfully tells how she has been the victim of “corrective rapes,” by men who believe such attacks will make her heterosexual. Police refuse to help her, so she in her anguish has taken to cutting herself and attempted suicide, the latticework of healed scars on her forearm visible proof of her efforts.

A mob beats and bloodies a “Batty-man,” island parlance for male homosexuals, in the street. Another man tells of someone setting his house afire.

Former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, in office at the time, gives an outrageous — but sadly not uncommon — viewpoint among conservative elected officials of any nation: defense of homophobia, comparing same sex sexual relations to bestiality and incest.

“I kept looking at my cameraman while the Prime minister was talking, thinking someone was going to stop the interview,” Blake said. “When we were leaving the country we put the tapes in separate bags because we were sure someone was going to confiscate them in the airport.”

Blake, 48, is writer/director of the documentary, “Queensbridge; The Other Side.” That film, on the history of Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, where she still lives, is included in the social studies programs at 50 New York-area public schools.

She announced plans for “Taboo Yardies” in 2008, expecting to complete the project in a year. But the project, which involved several trips to the island and others to California and Massachusetts to interview Jamaicans who had left the country, proved more daunting than anticipated.

Funding proved hard to come by – at one point Blake was almost evicted from her Queensbridge apartment for back rent, forcing her to take a job washing dishes and doing kitchen prep work in a company cafeteria.

“When I started working there, one of the cooks, a woman from one of the islands, asked me if I knew what I was doing and I said yes,” a smiling Blake recalled. “She watched me and could tell I didn’t know the first thing about what I was doing. But she helped me.”

Blake would sometimes work 12-hour days in the kitchen, then come home to edit her film footage into the dawn, hours before heading back the next day.

She left that job because “my body could not take it anymore. My knees were swollen night after night and some nights the pain was so unbearable some nights I was afraid to move around in bed because I would get a sharp pain in my hip all the way down to my feet.”

The current version of “Taboo Yardies” runs some 70 minutes long, culled from more than 70 hours of interviews. “There is a lot of stuff we didn’t put in the film, because it was just too much,” Blake said. “There are so many stories we didn’t use because it would have been overwhelming.”

“This is an important work,” said R. O’Gilvie Brammer, who hopes to screen the film at the Jamaica Diaspora US North East Region — a group of more than 500 Jamaicans who live outside the island — June 16 meeting in Boston.

Blake found most of the homosexual and transgender people who appear in the film and still live in Jamaica through word of mouth, and spent hours convincing many of them to appear in the movie.

Blake said even though their faces and voices were digitally altered in the film, several people have asked to be taken out of the finished product for fear of reprisals.

The situation was similar with the rape victim, whom Blake met in the woman’s neighborhood, drove to a secluded spot and taped the interview with the woman in the back seat of the car.

She got the Golding interview because he was a friend of the family — Blake immigrated to the U.S. in 1965.

Though she has received dozens of threats – after a screening last month at the General Theological Seminary an email arrived warning her to “Stay the hell out of Jamaica — and even had family members criticize her for making the film, Blake, who is heterosexual, said “this is a human rights issue.

“The burden of proof was my responsibility to convey to the audience without preaching the issues,” Blake said. “At the end of the day what I would like from this film is for us, as Jamaicans, to step back for a moment and put ourselves in the place of a gay man, a transgender man, and a lesbian, and say how would you like to be treated.

“When we put ourselves in other people’s shoes and are genuine about it, compassion will kick in.”

The film was shown in the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and will be next week at the Durban, South Africa film festival.