A teenager living in poverty in Trinidad and Tobago joins a dance group to make money, but she soon realizes success comes at a cost.
“She Paradise,” directed by Maya Cozier, follows Sparkle (Odessa Nestor), a teenager living in poverty with her grandfather in Trinidad and Tobago. Her Papa is a semiretired goldsmith who struggles to keep them fed. Sparkle resorts to picking damaged produce off the floor at the market for their dinner.
It is after one of these trips that she comes across a soca dance group and is mesmerized. The women are free and sensual, displaying a confidence and self-possession that is appealing to the 17-year-old Sparkle. But after she joins the group, she realizes that acceptance, and profit, come at a high price to women.
“She Paradise” reveals the contradictions that women both endure and embody on their path to success. The dance crew members spend as much time uplifting each other as they do undercutting one another, often in one breath. Many scenes hone in on the women’s bodies: the sweat on their bellies or their flexing muscles, emphasizing the labor of their performance, as well as how these can be vehicles for both commodification and empowerment.
But the film struggles at being compelling. Little is clarified about Sparkle’s back-story or personal motivations. Though Nestor’s understated performance is powerful at times, one leaves the film not fully satisfied, wanting for a stronger arc.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 11 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.