Mathurine Emmanuel captured the hearts of Saint Lucians when ‘Ribbons of Blue’ premiered almost a decade ago. I was 19 at the time. I can still remember the film’s impact; ‘Ribbons of Blue’ was groundbreaking—extraordinary, and it was certainly unlike anything I’d ever seen.

Mathurine Emmanuel
Mathurine Emmanuel

The movie changed the film landscape in Saint Lucia. ‘Ribbons of Blue’ left many individuals in tears, but it also made them roar with laughter. Emmanuel, who played ‘Ma Toe’ in the film, instantly captivated her audience when she appeared on screen. The film is unforgettable in every way and I think it’s safe to say we’re all grateful for it.

I met Mathurine at her residence in Desruisseaux earlier this year. She greeted me warmly and invited me to her garden, and there I conducted a nearly two-hour long interview. The garden reminded me of a fairytale and when I commented on its appearance, the actress told me that she’d poured her heart and soul into it at the onset of the pandemic, all the while believing that it would blossom into something beautiful. And just like she suspected, it did.

There, she recalled her childhood years and how magnificent it was; she also told me about her love for acting and how she knew it was her calling.

“Desruisseaux has always been a very special community. I have never thought of living anywhere else,” she said with a smile, adding that her mom had 12 kids (six boys and six girls).

“We lived in a small wooden house. My father died several years ago, but my mom is still alive, she’s 97,” the actress said.

According to her, “I always loved old people so I always thought of ways to make them happy. I would go to their yards and dance and perform my own little innocent skits just to bring laughter to their faces and that’s what I really loved doing.”

“My sister, Lena Frederick (and I) grew up like twins. We would leave our home when my mom was absent, and we would identify our next target and just go to their homes and entertain them.  Sometimes they would drop coins in our tins—we had grapefruit tins, so I felt like I earned my keep for the day,” Mathurine said with a burst of laughter.

I had just asked her about her favourite childhood memory and it was clear to me that those days were filled with bliss.

“I was a happy kid,” she said, adding that she always wanted to entertain people.

According to Mathurine, she simply wanted to inspire others with her stories; she started at the age of eight. As she got older, her passion grew and eventually she found the perfect opportunity.

Mathurine produced her first film ‘Tears in the Valley’ approximately 20 years ago and it turned out to be a hit locally. But there’s actually an interesting story behind it.

“It was Mr. Edward who called once—(he) worked with the Substance Abuse Secretariat at that time, and I was told they wanted me to produce a stage production. I misunderstood. I (took) my actors by the sea and when they saw the video, they told me ‘Mrs. Emmanuel we were talking about a stage production, but you produced a film’ and that’s how the career started. Everyone loved it,” she said adding that “the camera man (Michael Joseph) told me ‘Mathurine we didn’t know you could do that! If you can do that why not try another one?’ and that’s how ‘Ribbons of Blue’ was born.”

She dedicated the film to her mother. It was her way of saying thank you to a hardworking woman and the gift was undoubtedly fitting.

“(I wanted to) demonstrate to her that we appreciate all she did for us and that’s what we are doing now. Having 12 children was not easy,” Mathurine said gratefully.

The film was a masterpiece. It touched many individuals (myself included) and viewers praised Mathurine endlessly after its release. She is thankful for the outcome.

According to her, she hoped the film would be lifechanging.

“What really inspired me was producing a film or a message that would resonate with families especially children. I remember crying—my nose running, imagining a mother having to go through (what my character went through),” the award-winning actress said.

Mathurine makes countless sacrifices in the film for her daughter ‘Mandy’. Sadly, she shows no gratitude and is ashamed of her mother. In the end, however, there is a beautiful twist; one that is telling.

“People stopped me (to) tell me how it affected their life or their children’s lives wherever I went. I remember passing through the market and a lady called me and told me (in Creole) ‘I’ve been wanting to see you for a long time.’ I didn’t want to stop because I was going to renew my passport and I didn’t have the time, but I love to embrace people; I love to take the time to listen to them,” she said.

So, she stopped. The woman told Mathurine how the film affected her (it had a whirlwind effect on her) and her life changed considerably thereafter.

“She was crying and I kept on walking but I felt it … (the) tears, and I just felt so good about what I had done. I said to myself if it is having the impact that I wanted it to have, then I’ve not wasted my time and that continued wherever I went. I thank God for it because he inspired me to do it. God is just using me to touch the lives of other people in all kinds of ways,” the actress explained.

Mathurine produced ‘Nana’s Paradise’ and ‘Troubled Waters’ years later. The films, like their predecessors, are excellent.

Speaking about the inspiration behind the latter, she said “I was in the United States at that time (and) I remember when I landed in Saint Lucia there was this child who was raped and murdered (I think) somewhere in Soufriere. I said you know what? There are many young girls who are being raped by significant others in their environment: fathers, uncles, brothers, etc. I said I cannot go out there and shout and demonstrate on my own but there is something I can do.”

“I will use (my) gift to warn parents not to allow their children to go to people’s homes to sleep because sometimes the devil is out there waiting for them. We have to be careful with our young girls when we send them out there; we have to protect them. I tried to incorporate all of that into the story so that teachers could use it as a tool, and parents, single mothers especially, would be careful as to who they bring into their homes to play the role of father figure,” she added.

Interweaving real life stories with fiction (with lots of heart wrenching moments and humour) has worked beautifully for Mathurine.

And in her latest movie ‘Shantaye’s World’, we see the same method being used. The film will be released in the near future, however, some individuals were lucky enough to see the film at a private screening recently. There’s also a book too.

Iyanola Pictures (the production house behind the film), describes “Shantaye” as “bold, black, beautiful, intelligent” and one who is passionate about love.

Via Iyanola: “Born in rural St. Lucia during post-colonial times, she struggles to process the loss of a mother who passed away hours after bringing her into the world. She finds consolation in her loving paternal grandmother, Mam Lucess, who tries to equip her for the world.

Her father, Edson Anderson, does his best to care for Shantaye after the passing of his wife. However, when he remarries, the young girl is suddenly exposed to the jealous wrath of an unreasonable stepmother.

Her life changes forever when she falls in love.”

The storyline is gripping and the trailer for the film is just as exciting. ‘Shantaye’s World’ has been in the making for quite some time—the trailer was released four years ago, but the wait (and Mathurine’s hard work), was worth it.

“I moved to the United States for some time and when I returned, I think, I heard about this competition where all producers on island (had to) pitch their story. The (winner would receive) some financial assistance to produce (his/her) film so we had quite a few producers that day coming on to pitch their story,” she said.

“At first, I didn’t want to pitch mine, (Shantaye’s World), because I felt I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to sell out my story and have someone running away with it because that happens, but when I spoke to a cousin of mine, he said ‘don’t worry about that, you know what you want to see in that story so even if somebody else runs with it, yours will be yours.’ I pitched it and everyone got excited over it,” Mathurine added.

According to her, the book is “hilarious and it is reflective of who I am.”

“You can never have a film where the whole story is told but when it comes to writing you are free to write everything because you are able to go into detail. It is a very interesting piece of work I’m hoping that even the Ministry of Education will adopt because of the nature of the film,” she said.

The film features a number of heavyweights. Travis Weeks, Kennedy ‘Boots’ Samuel and ‘Cokes’ are all part of the cast; former Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy plays the narrator.

“We have three Shantaye’s. (There’s) little Shantaye, teenage Shantaye who falls in love for the first time and we have senior Shantaye; Dame Pearlette Louisy performs that role,” Mathurine informed me.

“(You can expect) lots and lots of drama. (It’s) heart wrenching; you will laugh (and) there are times you will cry. Sometimes you will feel the anger coming forth as well as,” she added.

Mathurine’s films are all dear to her—she has no favourites. The actress also told me about her next film, but it looks like we’ll have to wait quite a while for this one.

“My next film—I can sell it out now, (is called) ‘Secrets of the Ghetto’. I know there are many secrets when it comes to ghetto life; there are many stories which are left untold, and it only takes a minute to listen to the young men as they tell you their stories to understand what women go through. I think of the young men who are out there getting involved in crime and doing all kinds of things; I know they too have a story,” she said passionately.

With such a riveting storyline, ‘Secrets of the Ghetto’, I’m sure, will certainly be worth the wait.

Mathurine’s son Keddy joined us towards the end of the interview. Her face lit up when she saw him.

I interviewed Keddy briefly; he is the Chief Operations Officer and Business Development Lead for Iyanola Pictures.

“What do you love most about your mom?” I asked him.

He paused and then he grinned.

“I think what I love most about my mother is her ability to take darkness and make it light. She has a way of spinning even the worst circumstances and remaining motivated and pushing through to the end. I think that’s probably the greatest lesson that I’ve gotten from her as a son,” he said lovingly.

“I would say my mother’s greatest strength—and this goes back to me growing up observing this from a young age, is people; really connecting with people, inspiring people and getting (them) to work towards a common goal,” he added.

You should have seen the look on his mother’s face. His opinion, I quickly realized, meant the world to her.

“What a compliment,” Mathurine, who was visibly touched, said.

We wrapped up the interview shortly after.

The day was memorable and the journey, though long, was worthwhile. Wife, mother (she also has a daughter), actress, farmer, pastor, writer and (former) teacher, Mathurine does it all. She is truly a joy and undoubtedly a gift to Saint Lucians.

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