When it was released in 1997, Dancehall Queen created a sensation in Jamaica, eventually surpassing The Harder They Come as the highest-grossing film in that country's history. Like the dancehall music on its soundtrack, Dancehall Queen has a rough, self-produced feel disguised by a technically proficient coating. Utilizing elements of techno, rap, and reggae, dancehall combines technologically advanced production techniques with unmistakably Jamaican source material. To lesser effect, Dancehall Queen does the same thing as a film. Shot on digital video, which makes everything look like a British soap opera, the film concerns the struggle of a Kingston street vendor (Audrey Reid) trying to raise two children on her own. After being continually harassed by a knife-wielding thug and, in a disturbing sequence of events, encouraging her 15-year-old daughter to accept the advances of a middle-aged sugar daddy, Reid realizes that she needs to find a way out of poverty. Naturally, her mind turns to the dancehall, and she soon finds herself joining barely clad Kingston youths in a style of dance that blurs the line between dancing and performing sexual acts. Although the question of how Reid expects to make money simply by going to clubs isn't answered until near the movie's end, it's pretty clear from the beginning that Dancehall Queen is an old-fashioned melodrama sure to culminate in the all-important big show. Taken as such and enhanced by its Jamaican setting, it's not terrible, and it does feature a guest appearance by Beenie Man. But, despite being bankrolled by Island Records, it was clearly made on the fly, and the rough edges show. The same is true, generally speaking, of the music it portrays, but the film lacks almost all of the best dancehall music's fire. Released in America earlier this year on videotape and now available on DVD, those inclined to watch should opt for the disc, if only because the subtitles cut through the fast-paced patois that will be indecipherable to most American viewers.
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