Popcorn Picks: RasTa: A Soul’s Journey

Donisha and her grandmother Rita Marley

Starring: Donisha Prendergast (with appearances by Bob, Rita and Damien Marley, Ras Levi Roots, Dr. Benjamin Zephaniah and others)

Director: Stuart Samuels

Genre: Documentary

Choice Quote: “A Rastafarian is somebody who walks the steps, who lives the life everyday.” – Donisha Prendergast

What’s it about?: Donisha Prendergast, granddaughter of Bob and Rita Marley, travels through Canada, the US, the UK, India, Israel, South Africa, Ethiopia and Jamaica to study the history of the Rastafarian movement, speak with those who lived it, and to discover her own identity as a Rastafari woman. This film isn’t about convincing people to join the movement, but rather learning about the journeys of those who have.

Is it any good?: The “soul’s journey,” referred to in the title, does not pertain to one specific soul, or even one particular journey. This, rather, is a documentary that all at once tells the story of the individual, the collective, and the movement.

The individual: Prendergast seeks to define her own identity within the Rasta movement. Though we primarily follow her story, it’s those she meets along the way who truly serve to amplify the importance of her journey. Rastafari in eight countries open up about their personal journeys and struggles, inviting Prendergast and viewers deeper into the soul of the Rastafarian movement.

The collective: Whether it’s Rastafari in Ethiopia, urban centres in North America and the UK, or even those living in Jamaica, they’ve all, in ways both physical and spiritual, had to overcome the prejudice, hatred, and misunderstanding that met them at almost every stop along their journey.

The movement: Through Prendergast’s physical journey we see how far the culture of Rasta has come while hearing from, and learning about, those men and women – Emperor Haile Selassie I, Marcus Garvey, Leonard P. Howell, and Bob and Rita Marley among others – who played key roles in its inception and proliferation around the world. For some it’s a religion, for others it’s an ideal, but for all, Rasta is a way of life.

Both humour and philosophy permeate this film while Prendergast’s charismatic spirit keeps viewers absorbed the entire way through. The documentary also explores the meaning of some of the more misunderstood elements of the culture, such as dreadlocks (their “crown”), the music (“What we lack in the movement we achieve in music”) and, of course, the spiritual use of marijuana (“It’s classified as a drug because when you’re under its influence you don’t do the kind of work capitalism wants you to do.”).

The Rasta ties with Israel would have benefitted from more of an explanation regarding the lineage of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. As well, more footage of Prendergast speaking with youth about the movement (as she does to a captivated group in Toronto) in place of some of the street dancing/music clips, might have gone further to show how the next generation is preparing for their own journeys.

Still, you don’t have to be a Rasta to enjoy this film. You don’t even have to know a thing about the movement. The only requirement is an open mind. Those who choose to join Prendergast on her journey will not be disappointed.

Can I bring my kids and grandkids to see it?: Absolutely. The film’s main themes – peace, individuality, community spirit, and rising above hate and prejudice – are played out through music, humour, and insightful dialogue. The film does, however, condone marijuana use which, depending on your personal views, could be a talking point. Overall, though, Prendergast prompts all viewers to consider their own journeys: who they are, where they came from, and where they hope to go.

Overall Popcorn Rating: 4 kernels out of 5.

RasTa: A Soul’s Journey screens every Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. during Black History Month at the Royal Ontario Museum.

-Mike Crisolago