Words by Nneka Samuel
Whoever invented the saying imitation is the sincerest form of flattery clearly never heard anyone butcher a Caribbean accent. Rife with “hey, mons”s, “irie”s and the ever-favorite “one love,” people the world over not only mangle the dialect, but assume that all Caribbean accents sound Jamaican. There’s even a term for it: Jafakin.
But when you’re a paid actor with easy access to a person called an acting coach (or nowadays, this other thing called the internet) there should be no excuse. Forever etched in our memories, here are POTENT’s picks of the worst Caribbean accents ever uttered in film and television.
Her name and face were synonymous with psychic hotlines in the 1990’s. This Seattle, Washington-bred Jafakin helped The Psychic Readers Network rake up millions of dollars with her pay-per-call hotline. But we’re not sure what’s worse: Miss Cleo’s “call me now” accent or the people that called in, believing they’d not only get to talk to Miss Cleo but that her psychic powers were real. (After all, the fine print at the bottom of the screen did read: “For Entertainment Only.”)
Brad Pitt as Death in Meet Joe Black
Legends of The Fall. Fight Club. Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Brad Pitt has starred in a slew of amazing movies and generally speaking, knocks his performance out of the park every time. But his turn as Death in 1998’s Meet Joe Black wasn’t quite up to snuff.
In one scene in the film, Pitt tells an elderly Caribbean woman who’s in grave pain and ready to die that it’s not her time yet. And he does it with a Jamaican accent. He’s on point with a word or two, but Pitt looks and sounds dazed and/or stoned. Thankfully, he didn’t utilize this accent throughout the entire movie.
My Crazy Roommate
This sitcom airs on Bounce TV, a relatively new U.S. television network. It’s about two roommates from opposing coasts who don’t get along. One of them, Brooke, has a Jamaican mother who pays them a visit. Not only does Brooke’s mother’s horrible accent steal the scene, it’s so bad we can’t even find a clip for it.
Whoopi Goldberg in Clara’s Heart
In this 1988 film, Whoopi plays a no-nonsense Jamaican housekeeper who aids a grieving mother and her family after the loss of a child. But Goldberg’s so called Jamaican accent sounds more like her natural New York accent, tinged with the flavor of a Caribbean island that exists only in her mind.
Phyllis Yvonne Stickney in How Stella Got Her Groove Back
A lot of people harped on Taye Diggs and his Jamaican accent in the film that practically made his career. But those people clearly missed Phyllis Yvonne Stickney. She played Winston’s (Taye’s) mother and came down on Stella for being with a man old enough to be her son, a point that was undercut by her muffled accent.
Gabourey Sidibe in Tower Heist
She first came to our attention in the Oscar-winning film Precious, but when Gabourey Sidibe took a turn as a maid with lock-picking skills in Tower Heist, the accolades didn’t exactly come rushing in. She played opposite Eddie Murphy in this Bret Ratner-directed comedy and even stole a scene when she playfully asked Murphy’s character if he was married. Genre aside, Sidibe’s accent was sometimes believable but mostly mediocre. But if that confusion was intentional on her part, we’ll take her off this list and call her performance nothing short of genius.
Jar Jar Binks of the Star Wars franchise
Years after the debut of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, the jury is still out on whether or not the character Jar Jar Binks was voiced with a (faux) Jamaican accent. He was intended to provide comic relief, but movie critics and viewers alike trashed Jar Jar Binks, likening him to both Caribbean stereotypes and blackface minstrelsy. That combined with his high-pitched whining and squealing made for one of the least beloved characters in the Star Wars franchise.
Which accent is worst? Tell us in the Comments section below. Feel free to add some that we missed!