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Jamaican Filmmaker Perry Henzell Dies At Age 70
Published December 5, 2006

With the passing of the filmmaker on November 30, Jamaica not only lost one of its most creative minds, but a firebrand who was frustrated that his country never fulfilled its post-independence promise.

Henzell, 70, died in his home last Thursday after several years of battling cancer.

 

He belonged to an energetic generation who desperately wanted to shake off the shackles of British colonialism. The classic film, The Harder They Come, was Henzell's lasting tribute to his generation - a generation that produced visionaries like musicians Don Drummond and Bob Marley, and dancer/choreographer Rex Nettleford. Henzell's background differed considerably from that of Drummond, Marley and Nettleford. He was a product of the plantocracy, educated at prestigious lily-white schools in Britain and Canada. Yet, Henzell was always in touch with the grass roots. Many foreigners who saw The Harder They Come got an intimate look for the first time at how the average Jamaican lived. Until then, most of them basked in its postcard image of sun, sea and sand. For over 30 years, Henzell was praised for the film. He received several awards and gave lectures in North America and Europe. But The Harder They Come was much more than a movie to Perry Henzell. From as early as 1972, he advocated a social transformation, and called for prison reform and wide-scale changes to the justice system. He did not live long enough to see the realization of either. Thirty-four years ago, all types of people were drawn to the film’s US release. Like the provocative writings of Jack Kerouac and the jazz strains of Charlie Parker, Henzell's movie did not discriminate. The message is what pulled and continues to draw viewers to The Harder They Come. That may well be Perry Henzell's greatest gift to all generations.