Every Nigger is a Star (lost Calvin Lockhart film; 1973-1974)
Every Nigger is a Star is a Jamaican film directed by and starring Calvin Lockhart. The film was released in 1973 (or 1974, according to some sources) and quickly faded into obscurity due to negative reception.
The soundtrack, created by Boris Gardiner, has been brought back into mainstream attention recently due to the title track being sampled in Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, as well as being used in the 2016 film Moonlight.
The movie, however, remains unseen and possibly even lost for good.
Very little has surfaced about the plot of the film. Supposedly, it centers on a man's journey to return to his home of Jamaica. Along the way, he meets up with famous reggae bands of the time, such as Inner Circle and Count Ossie's Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. Though often described as a “blaxploitation” film, the movie differed from most works associated with this movement, as it was truly intended as an activist film rather than one that simply used black stereotypes to draw in audiences.
The film tried to capture the culture of the post-independence Caribbean and showcase black creativity. Its primary intention was to remove the negative connotations of the word “nigger” and change it into a term of black pride. In retrospect, Gardiner negatively described the tone of the movie as that of a documentary, stating that the producers “did not really have a strong movie” and that the theater was “packed to capacity, waiting for something to happen”.
The idea for the film came from Calvin Lockhart, who was in Jamaica at the time to star in The Marijuana Affair. In response to his then-recent declarations that black actors had no impact on the industry in Hollywood, he decided to start working on his own projects, Every Nigger is a Star being the first. He reached out to producer Eddie Knight, who in turn contacted Boris Gardiner and his brother Barrington to produce the soundtrack.
Confirmed cast members include Calvin Lockhart, playwright Alfred Fagon, musician Big Youth, and Rastafarian leader Mortimo Planno, though the movie does not appear in any of their public filmographies. The film was produced by Eddie Knight and Rupert Sterling, and shot by filmmaker William Greaves. In a 2015 interview Gardiner recalled that the film was "the brainchild of Eddie Knight and Teddy McCook", but McCook's involvement is not documented anywhere else.
Every Nigger is a Star was only released in Jamaica and the Bahamas, as no US distributors wanted to handle it. The film was an immediate failure, with audience levels dropping from packed to nearly empty after just one night. Having expected a different kind of film entirely, those who saw it rioted to get their money back.
After the film’s flop, it quickly disappeared from theaters. Outside of Boris Gardiner, nobody involved with its production is known to have mentioned it since its release, possibly out of embarrassment. Yale University professor Erica Moiah James has described it as a lost film, indicating that no prints are known to still exist.
This does not mean a future reappearance is out of the question; it is possible a copy may exist somewhere and has just been overlooked due to lack of documentation on the film in general. However, unless someone comes forth, all that is known to still exist is the soundtrack.
- Erica Moiah James. “Every Nigger Is a Star: Reimagining Blackness from Post–Civil Rights America to the Postindependence Caribbean.” Black Camera, vol. 8, no. 1, 2016, pp. 55–83.
- Dutch synopsis of the movie Retrieved 10 Apr '17.
- 2009 Jamaica Gleaner article and interview with Boris Gardiner Retrieved 10 Apr '17.
- Discogs page for the soundtrack album, including scans of the sleeve Retrieved 10 Apr '17.
- 2015 Jamaica Observer article and interview with Boris Gardiner Retrieved 10 Apr '17.