A mild musical rags-to-riches story, Dancehall Queen concerns Marcia, an impoverished but tenacious street seller, as she struggles to bring up her two daughters. After being intimidated repeatedly by local thug Priest, she decides enough is enough and begins to reinvent herself, taking her inspiration from local dancehall beauties. In the meantime, sassy daughter Tanya is hectored by family friend “Uncle” Larry into having sex, something she entirely blames on her mother. After investing a large amount of (a friend’s) money in garish tailor-made outfits, Marcia sneaks out at night to pick up vicarious dancing lessons in preparation for a competition to become the titular ‘Dancehall Queen’.
In spite of her street-urchin bravura, Marcia is essentially a chick flick heroine, her story a simple story arc. For a lovable protagonist, she is surprisingly selfish, even considering her predicament. Her emotional ignorance towards her daughters is reprehensible at worst, but the belated blossoming of her own femininity apparently exempts her from any blame. Tanya’s wisdom beyond her years makes her a far more interesting character, and it’s a shame that not much else is heard of her story.
Acting talent varies greatly, and often reaches telenovela territory, but the key roles are amply filled. Paul Campbell in particular is on form as Priest, and it’s a shame that little has been seen of him outside Jamaican cinema. Audrey Reid plays Marcia with adequate gutsiness, but it’s hard to want to egg her on when it comes to the moment of truth.