Max-Arthur Mantle is a Jamaican-born author, photographer and filmmaker. He studied Journalism and Photography at Howard University (Washington, DC) and served in the US military (Navy). His debut novel, Batty Bwoy published in 2015 “offers an engaging look at same sex desires from a Jamaican lens within an American context, which thankfully doesn’t rely on stereotypes. His characters are fleshy, rough and rendered with complexity and profundity. Perhaps more than anything Batty Bwoy pulls back the curtains on the terrors associated with pursuing self and desire.” He is also known for directing and producing the groundbreaking 2018 documentary, VISIBLE – The LGBTQ Caribbean Diaspora featuring 30 participants representing the entire Caribbean who identify as LGBTQ and living in the North American diaspora, specifically Toronto, New York City, Boston, Miami and Los Angeles, where there are a larger Caribbean immigrant population. The documentary was screened in the USA, Europe and Africa. His photography, primarily men’s fashion/swim have graced the covers and editorial pages of US and international magazines and published in photobooks. He is currently working on a dramatic feature film, also inspired by his novel. The film is a coming of age story that looks at homophobia in Jamaica, within the context of race, class and nationality. This film will be the first feature film with LGBTQ themes to be shot in Jamaica.
I was twenty-one in 1992 when Buju Banton released his gay-hate anthem "Boom Bye Bye." I was preparing to study at the University of the West Indies, and knowing that I am gay, I began to accept the reality that my journey would be different and difficult. I began to monitor my behavior, and like a priest taking a vow of celibacy, I was going to devote my adult life to being a closeted academic. Then my father in Connecticut filed for me to migrate to America, and I exhaled. It was the promise of something.At Howard University, my metamorphosis from an obscure and awkward freshman to a socially valued, trailblazing upperclassman instilled a desire to navigate my queer, black, artistic, and sometimes exciting life on my own terms. Living in the diaspora has afforded me this reality.My evolution does not recognize that scared boy who was almost beaten by an angry homophobic mob in Jamaica 25 years ago. I wonder what kind of life I would have had, if I had stayed. I fear I would have been reduced to a fraction of who I am today, if I had survived.Several documentaries have originated from the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, regarding the LGBTQ community. But they felt reductive; even primitive. I wanted the conversation to evolve, like I had, from an American lens, without the repressive cultural mores found in the Caribbean limited by anti-sodomy laws, fundamental Christians who use the Bible to preach intolerance, with ignorance and fear being recycled into hate. I wanted to show the other side - after the hate and bashing. How LGBTQ people from the Caribbean thrive and live their best lives, when they are in liberal and accepting spaces.I hope the issues explored in the documentary, VISIBLE – THE LGBTQ CARIBBEAN DIASPORA, will not alienate people's love for the Caribbean region. It is not an attempt to undermine the efforts of LGBTQ activists who are working hard throughout the region to advocate change. I recognize that every LGBTQ person living in the Caribbean does not want to leave their home. My lens looks at the relatable narrative of when we LGBTQ Caribbean people, leave the hostile, non- accepting, and life-threatening places, in favor of more tolerant, respectful, and accepting spaces, it presents a “closer to ideal” existence. Closer to living authentic, VISIBLE lives. And closer to our inalienable rights as a human. While there are more accepting places in the Caribbean diaspora, it is not a perfect world, and there are many other challenges.
Why did I make the documentary?
My novel “Batty Bwoy,” self-published in 2015 looks at the life of a gay black man from Jamaica, his experience with homophobia in Jamaica, migrating to the USA, coming out and his trials and triumphs as a gay, black immigrant. During my book tour, the book resonated with LGBTQ Caribbean readers, and it spawned the idea to tell their narratives in a documentary. The documentary is a social impact film that can be used for educational purposes.
I want to give a voice to many voiceless LGBTQ Caribbean immigrants in North America, who are often bunch into boxes (LGBTQ and/or people of color in North America) without a better understanding of their unique Caribbean identity which is very different from growing up in North America. In the Caribbean, LGBTQ identity is not celebrated or visible to the point of inclusion and when these people leave and come to North America, they can be visible on an individual basis. This documentary shows their visibility in the context of their Caribbean identity and experiences.
From years of being a freelance photographer and achieiving my personal goals, it was a natural progression into the filmmaking artform because I’m basically a storyteller using various mediums, and from my writing which has some depth of activism regarding human rights, I wanted to create thought provoking, status quo challenging work that also champion marginalized groups whether LGBTQ, Caribbean and/or immigrant, and people of color.
In the development phase of the documentary, I had 75 subjects to consider. I feel all our lives are interesting and special, but not everyone should have their life retold in a novel or film. I selected subjects with compelling narratives that were also different in one way or another. The big picture is how they experienced homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, and lesbophobia while growing up in the Caribbean, but when their experiences are deconstructed viewers will see the many layers in which being marginalized and discriminated against is served, and its impact on their lives. I selected a cast of people who are very representative of the Caribbean, all 30 islands/countries. Some are high-profile public figures, some celebrities in their fields, included professionals in academia, the arts and entertainment, and people at different stages in life from various socio-economic status, to show that hate does not discriminate.
During my book tour for my debut novel “Batty Bwoy,” I spoke about my journey of being gay, growing up in Jamaica, and migrating to the US where I was free to explore my identity. It resonated with my audience, many who are also LGBTQ and from the Caribbean. I sat out to select subjects from this group and through their recommendations. They were supportive from the beginning because nothing like this has every been done regarding spotlighting LGBTQ from the entire Caribbean region, not only Jamaica, and being told by a fellow LGBTQ, and Caribbean-born director. My subjects saw me as “one of them” telling our stories, and it gave me allowances someone else would not have had. I also feel because I have such a transparant, colorful, and down-to-earth personality my subjects were able to relax and share their stories how they wanted it to be told.
When I wrote my novel many readers thought it must have been cathartic. To be honest, it was not, or maybe I’m in denial. But I simply wanted to tell my story and write a book. We all dream of writing a book one day, but not everyone achieve that goal. Similarly, working on the documentary it was a personal challenge, an extention to my novel. I never sat out to be a filmmaker, but as a photographer it felt like a natural progression. My peers from Howard University all have postgraduate degrees, own businesses, their kids going off to college, and I’m galavanting across North America to film a documentary. They are proud of my drive, some looking out from their insulated status thinks it’s admirable that I’m living my dreams, unconventionally, and without apology. I don’t think I would know how to do anything else. I hope I’ll continue to live like this, and have the passion to tell stories in all mediums of interest, whether in my future novels, photography, painting and films.
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