Documenting the abominable

Simone Edwards at a refugee camp in Holland. Image by Common Good Productions. Netherlands, 2013.Filmmaker Micah Fink looks at life-altering consequences of anti-gay violence in Jamaica. 

By Anita Lo '16

Micah Fink, founder of Common Good Productions, is an award-winning producer, director and writer specializing in international affairs, public health and environmental issues. His 2013 documentary The Abominable Crime has screened in 21 film festivals and collected many awards, including the first Amnesty International Human Rights Award given at the Trinidad+Tobago Film Festival in 2014.

Learning From Performers, with Adams House and the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, will host an Micah Finkundergraduate-only talk with Fink at noon, Thursday, March 31. (The lunch is free for undergrads but requires an RSVP here.) Additionally, Maurice Tomlinson, one of the subjects of the documentary, will be in conversation with Timothy McCarthy at noon, Thursday, March 31 at the Harvard Kennedy School. The Abominable Crime will screen at 3 p.m. March 31 at Harvard Divinity School. This project is supported by the Melvoin Family Fund. Below is an edited excerpt of a conversation with the filmmaker.

What moved you to make this film?
I had been commissioned by the PBS program World Focus to do a series exploring why Jamaica had one of the highest HIV infection rates in the Western Hemisphere. The Jamaican government had just published a study showing that nearly 32 percent of the gay male community was HIV positive. While doing this series, we explored how the Jamaican legal system (its anti-sodomy law), how its culture of homophobia (dancehall and media) and culture of violence (gang attacks on gays) were contributing to the underlying epidemic. During this process, I interviewed a Jamaican government minister who told me that there was no violence against gays in Jamaica, that the reports were anti-Jamaican gay propaganda. To find out the truth of the situation, I spent several days interviewing members of Jamaica's gay community. They told me story after story about violent attacks and assaults, and the refusal of the police to offer any protection. One of the people who came forward was Simone, who later became one of the two main characters in The Abominable Crime. 

In the movie, you cut together two ostensibly separate narratives of Maurice and Simone. While they’re connected as victims of intolerant violence, as a filmmaker how do you mold these very personal stories to fit an overarching one while respecting their individuality?
The two stories that we're telling are in some ways mirror images of each other. Simone starts in Jamaica and is forced to flee and to start a new life in Holland. Maurice, when the story picks up, is in exile and has to make a decision on whether or not to go back. Thematically, Simone is leaving, because her life is in danger, while Maurice is returning even though his life is in danger. The stories in that way parallel each other. We wanted the stories to be very intimate and to give us a chance to understand anti-gay violence aside from the legal or sociopolitical aspects.

While the people in the documentary mostly react to the violence and threats against them – and you explain that the film itself is a reaction to the political bigotry against LGBTQ Jamaicans – how does the film propose a way of forward action?
It has been fascinating to see how the film becomes a gateway to discuss and confront certain issues that really are not so separate from issues that people face here in the United States. The film is about consequences – long-term consequences, personal consequences, family consequences, consequences of acts of violence. As a filmmaker, you can try to highlight stories that are seldom seen in the mainstream media. The film’s message is that these are real people. When you stereotype, you reduce. I hope that this film is transformative, that you can’t look at anti-gay violence the same after you've seen it.