(TT NEWSDAY) – OUTRAGED Trinidad and Tobago nationals on Sunday accused US actor Michael B Jordan of cultural appropriation with the launch of his new rum named J’Ouvert.
A box set displaying the rum included a schematic of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, plus a written reference to Trinidad and to J’Ouvert as a local celebration of emancipation and Carnival.
Twitter on Sunday saw an outpouring of ire.
One man said, “The name, the name, the name is a problem sir! How you going to trademark this? We need to contest this. This cannot pass.”
One woman said, “Who gave him permission? Has he ever been to Trinidad, or even played J’Ouvert?”
Others were unperturbed.
“Trinidad rum is much larger than you think. Many of the big brands that you see have a Trini base,” one man said.
Another asked if there was a local co-owner and noted Jordan has the resources and fans to push the business.
One woman mused, “We look for dat. This is what happens when we are consistently ambivalent about our culture, largely ignore its historical, spiritual and ideological significance.”
Lecturer in Law at UWI St Augustine Dr Justin Koo, an intellectual property specialist, clarified the issue on Twitter.
“If the trademark for J’Ouvert rum is granted, this does not mean we can no longer say the word J’Ouvert, this does not mean we cannot write J’Ouvert, this does not mean we cannot throw J’Ouvert parties any more.
“In relation to the J’Ouvert rum trademark application, if that is granted all that it means is that in the context of the United States of America where the trademark was filed, no-one else can sell rum or any confusingly similar product under the name J’Ouvert.”
Koo said a US trademark would only be relevant in TT if approved here by Intellectual Property Office or if the brand became quite famous worldwide or in the US or in TT.
“But beyond this, there would be no repercussions for an application for J’Ouvert being accepted in the US.”
Newsday was unable to contact Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi or Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts Randall Mitchell, respectively on the issue of intellectual property or cultural appropriation.
Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon told Newsday the issue was “of extreme concern” owing to the intellectual property question.
“The first thing is to gather the information to see if it is in fact so. Then working together with the intellectual property office of the Ministry of the Attorney General, we’ll do the necessary investigation and, as always, seek to support anything that is Trinidad but at the same time protect what is ours.
“This is of keen interest, not only to the Ministry of Trade and Industry but also to the intellectual property office of the Ministry of the Attorney General, and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. We all have an interest. Trindad and Tobago is our interest.”
The J’Ouvert box set also included two bottles of Angostura Bitters, raising questions as to whether Jordan had a commercial link with Angostura either in the company supplying him rum and/or in the two ventures matching of his rum with the bitters, or whether the bitters stood on its own strength there.
Angostura’s public relations and hospitality manager Judy Kanhai and executive manager of marketing Hema Ramkissoon on Sunday both opted to not comment.
Jordan, 34, starred in the movies Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015), with a top role as Erik Killmonger in Black Panther (2018), and appeared in Red Tails (2012), Chronicle (2012), That Awkward Moment (2014), Fantastic Four (2015) and Just Mercy (2019.)
Last year, Time magazine said he was one of the 100 most influential people in the world, with People magazine naming him the Sexiest Man Alive and the New York Times ranking him at #15 on its list of the 25 greatest actors of this century.
In 2018 Jordan directed a short movie, The Angel’s Share, for the rum company, Bacardi, and owns a rum bar in New York named Las Lap.