Chokehold: A gripping exploration of domestic violence on St. Martin

Chokehold: A gripping exploration of domestic violence on St. Martin

Film review by Antonio Carmona Báez

Chokehold, directed by Joel Ayuk, takes audiences on an intense and thought-provoking journey into the sad reality of domestic violence on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, skilfully navigating a familiar narrative and shedding light on an issue often hidden behind closed doors.

At the centre of the story is Victoria, played convincingly by Jamaican actress Sherando Ferril, a woman grappling with the brutal complexities of her abusive relationship with her husband Mike, a police officer, realistically portrayed by Nollywood star Enyinna Nwigwe.

Victoria (or Vicky) is a domestic abuse victim in denial. Mike is a complex character who serves as a police officer in the community. The portrayal of his internal conflict and exhibition of toxic masculinity is both compelling and unsettling.

Hitting all the symptoms of domestic abuse on the nose, Chokehold effectively explores the ripple effects of domestic violence within a family unit, not unnoticed by the Caribbean extended family, neighbours and friends. Mike controls the family finances, estranging Vicky from her own sister and watching her every move.

Sophia, played by Oremeyi Kareem, is Vicky’s best friend, representing the voice of reason which tries to persuade her to put an end to the relationship.

The couple’s daughter Candace, portrayed by Aliya Harding, adds another layer to the narrative. Her innocence is shattered as she bears witness to the episodes of physical abuse, underscoring the intergenerational impact of such traumatic experiences. This is supported by flashbacks to Vicky’s childhood, also plagued by lethal violence.

The film does not shy away from depicting the challenges faced by those attempting to support someone trapped in an abusive relationship. Tom, Mike’s best friend and fellow police officer played by Simeon Henderson, attempts to intervene and help Mike break free from the cycle of violence. However, his efforts are met with resistance, highlighting the complexities of addressing mental health within the context of law enforcement.

One of the film’s strengths lies in its unflinching portrayal of the psychological aspects of domestic violence. Mike’s refusal to acknowledge and address his own issues becomes a poignant commentary on the barriers individuals face when confronting their inner demons. Joel Ayuk’s direction ensures that the film is not merely a portrayal of suffering, but a call to action.

Chokehold is an important and timely film that addresses a pressing social issue with sensitivity and nuance. While domestic violence is a theme that may be considered redundant to some, the facts surrounding physical, psychological and emotional abuse in the home on the binational Caribbean island call for more attention.

In the Collectivité de Saint-Martin, domestic violence has risen by 25% between 2020 and 2023, according to the French Gendarmerie. Meanwhile, country Sint Maarten is still dealing with the consequences of gender-based violence following the spike in reported cases, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic when related social pressures and triggers resulted in an unknown number of deaths. Far from being resolved, the issue has certainly not been exhausted in public information campaigns or schools. Chokehold seeks to help fill the gap.

With the help of drone shots, the cinematography captures the vibrant beauty of the island, serving as a stark contrast to the ugliness that looms within individual homes. The use of visual metaphors enhances the storytelling, creating a visceral impact on the audience.

Through the voices of the film’s characters, Ayuk portrays a real St. Martin, where accents found among the population do range from West Africa to the United States, to Jamaica and St. Kitts and back to St. Martin, even within the family. At the same time, it imagines a future country where only one Police Force exists, making the border between the two territories irrelevant while affirming the commonalities among Caribbean families.

The full-length feature film with an all-Black cast serves as a powerful conversation starter on domestic violence, toxic masculinity, and the urgent need for mental health awareness. This gripping drama offers a glimmer of hope amid the challenges of intergenerational pain, urging viewers to reflect on the collective responsibility to break the cycle of abuse in our communities.

Pictured: Director Joel Ayuk (standing) with the cast of Chokehold. From left (sitting): Simeon Henderson, Enyinna Nwigwe, Kenneth Okolie, Oremeyi Kareem and Sherando Ferril. (The Daily Herald file photo).

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