Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Oyetayo Raymond Ojoade
For men, women’s hindquarters are the subject of an almost primal fascination. The female bottom takes on a particularly prominent position in the Caribbean and especially Trinidad, a place where the biggest event of the calendar year has, in many ways, become a celebration of “bamsees,” “bumpers” and “boom booms.” With its ever-more revealing costumes and incorporation of sexualized, female-centric wining, today’s Trinidad Carnival is a showcase of gluteal gravitas perhaps only rivaled by its counterpart in Rio de Janeiro.
Oyetayo Raymond Ojoade, the son of a Trinidadian mother and a Nigerian father who grew up in northern Nigeria, became fascinated with the female bottom’s place in Trinidadian society after relocating to the island as an adult. So Ojoade, a documentary filmmaker who teaches in the film program at University of the West Indies-St. Augustine, decided to make a movie of it. Ojoade’s Bottom In De Road (named for Iwer George’s 2006 soca song) explores the phenomenon through interviews with Trinidadian scholars, theologians, calypsonians, and regular men and women on the street, as well as Carnival footage filmed in de road in Port of Spain. The result is an informative and humorous treatise on “bumper power” that is anything but sexist, celebrating the ways in which Caribbean women are using their God-given assets for their own good.
Bottom In De Road premieres tonight at the Trinidad + Tobago Film Festival in Port of Spain, where we spoke with Ojoade last week. Read the interview below, and look out for more coverage from TTFF right here.
LargeUp: What are some of the other films that you’ve made?
Oyetayo Raymond Ojoade: I’m into documentary filmmaking. This [is] my eighth one so far. I did one on the Soucouyant of Mayaro, it’s a myth; I did one on the Shouter Baptist Carnival and religion. I did another on stray dogs. It’s called “Who Let the Dogs Out.” I grew up in Nigeria. And in Nigeria, we don’t have stray dogs. So coming here, it was like “Ah,” a shock to me. “What’s all this?” So I had to do that.
LU: It sounds like the social habits of Trinidad are of particular interest to you. Why is that?
OJO: Where I grew up in Nigeria, the northern part of Nigeria, it is half Christian, half Muslim. And the Muslims are radicals. So you don’t get to see life. The females now are kind of scared. They can not dress in the way they would love to dress. And that is the reason why I did this documentary, Bottom in De Road. I grew up seeing women dressed in a certain way. With loose clothing that covers the bottom. Occasionally you see a woman in tight-fitting jeans, but depending on where she goes, she will get harassed. So moving to Trinidad now, as an adult, I saw women and young girls moving about freely with clothes that reveal their bottoms. And again it was a total shock to me! So I was forced to do this.
I wanted to make it a local documentary. So I had to research local music. I heard a lot of local music [about women’s bottoms]. I heard Kerwin Du Bois’ “Bumper Too Real.” I heard Fay Ann Lyons’ “Heavy T Bumpa.” But I fell in love with Iwer George’s “Bottom In De Road” the first time I listened to it. I said, Yes, this is good for me [for a title]. I was taping women walking down with their bottoms in the road. I arranged to have an interview with Iwer George. And I told him about my documentary, and what I was working on. And he told me, “But of course, that song and no other is the best title for this documentary.”
LU: Growing up with a Trinidadian mother in Nigeria, what did you know about Trinidad before you came here?
OJO: That women are very independent. I grew up with my mother being in charge. Yes, my father would have the final say. But my mother was very vocal. She took charge of everything. He gave her leeway. So going here, I realized “Oh, this is how the women behave here.” They are in charge. The men are below. The women are up.
LU: What led you to move here to Trinidad? Did you have a fascination with this place before you came here?
OJO: I used to come here when I was younger to visit. We are three siblings. I’m in the middle. My parents told us, finish your first degree in Nigeria, and you can go anywhere you want to go to, for any other thing. So we said, ‘Let’s try it out.’ And we’ve been living here since. My younger brother came first, then me, then my older sister.
LU: Was Trinidad more interesting to you than Nigeria?
OJO: I miss Nigeria. Because Nigeria is very big. Trinidad is a drop in the ocean compared to Nigeria. Trinidad alone could be just one town in Nigeria. And Nigeria has so many different cultures. But Trinidad is different. Trinidad is…the women, ooh lord. The women fascinate me a lot. My wife, she is from Trinidad. She has a very big bottom. Her bottom motivated me to do this documentary. I tried to interview her, but she said no. She’s very private. But her bottom is one of the bottoms that led me to move around Trinidad and see the kinds of bottoms women have.
When I first met my wife, she used to wear long gowns to cover her bottom as well. But I told her, come on, you can’t be doing this. I didn’t know she had a big bottom until she turned around and was walking back into her house and she bent over to pick up something and I said, wow, look at that. So I told myself I have to explore what I think I see here. And I’m with her for the past eight years now. We have a five year old. Things are well! And now she’s wearing nice jeans showing off her bottom. [Laughs].
LU: In a Muslim culture, women cover up as much as possible. Trinidad, and much of the Caribbean, is quite the opposite. Skin is good. Did you find yourself having behinds on the brain more when you came here? Did it change the way you look at women’s bottoms?
OJO: I don’t know about you, but growing up, as a man, I prefer to imagine. So I would prefer to just see the outline. So I miss Nigeria for that. In Trinidad, there’s nothing else for you to imagine because you are seeing everything.
LU: You interviewed a wide variety of people. I thought it would be a lot of calypsonians and older Trinidadian men talking. You know, connoisseurs of bottom. But you had a Muslim scholar, a few Hindu scholars, a Catholic priest and all sorts of other academics, adding different perspectives. What was the aim there?
OJO: I have put out two trailers for this movie. The second one, as of now, has over 300,00 hits on Facebook alone. They think it’s soft porn, but it’s not. I interviewed all of those people to counteract that. The religious ones—the Hindu, the Muslim and the Christian—they are all trying to tell us, well the women, to cover up, and be “decent.” If not for that, you will think it’s just another sexist kind of thing. Like I’m trying to mess women up. But I’m not. That’s the reason I brought in the Sarah Baartman story. You are coming to learn more about the female bottom.
LU: One of the talking heads brought up an interesting point, that the Carnival culture in Trinidad fuels the obsession with bottoms because Carnival is about men dancing with women in the street and naturally the man is going to be behind the woman. How do you see the Carnival culture fueling Trinidad’s bottom obsession?
OJO: The Hindu scholar talked about Carnival before, and compared it to Carnival now. Carnival back in his days, they were almost all dressed. But these days now the women are walking almost half-naked. Before, it was telling us a story behind Carnival, with all of the Carnival characters. But now, I don’t know. It’s like we are going out to see just bottom? There’s no meaning to Carnival anymore. Back in the days yes, but now you just go out there to have fun, get drunk, and that is why they say, after Carnival, you get Carnival babies. Because there is a lot of sex during Carnival.
LU: You had footage of a lot of different soca artists performing like Machel Montano, Alison Hinds and then you had interviews with Destra and Iwer George. Did you approach these other Carnival performers?
OJO: This movie took me three years to produce. I tried to get Denise Belfon for over three years. I wanted to interview her because her bottom is what people know in Trinidad. She is very independent. And she sings about her bottom on stage. She attracts a crowd to her bottom. I don’t know if you know her “Bicycle Wine.” She is known for that. I’m not happy I didn’t get to speak to her.
LU: And she’s a big woman who is not ashamed of her body. She’s showing off her sex appeal and wearing tight clothes on stage. That would have been up for derision in days gone by. But the broader culture has embraced big butts now. To what do you credit that change, where “thicker’ female bodies are being accepted? Did you come to any sort of conclusion?
OJO: I myself still don’t know. After doing this documentary, I am still confused. I believe people like Denise Belfon and Alison Hinds are fighting back the Sarah Baartman era. How the white man messed up the black woman back then. And they are trying to tell you now that: Look. You have this bottom, and you can use it for your own good. And they are trying right now. They’re trying.
LU: What is some of the feedback that you’ve gotten?
OJO: It’s getting a lot of comments on Facebook. A lot of comments. Of course, the majority are men. They like it. Some say it’s sexist. Some say it’s soft porn. But the majority see themselves here. And they’re saying “Finally, somebody is doing a video on the female bottom.” The local Trinidadians will say it had to be me who did this. Because I am coming from an outside point of view. It’s part of their culture and most of the men, they say they don’t have the courage to put it like this. So I am the one who is best suited to have done this. And I have done it.