- Cool Runnings director Jon Turteltaub and the cast open up about the controversy surrounding Jamaican accents in the film.
- Turteltaub had battles with Disney boss Jeffrey Katzenberg over the characters’ accents.
- The cast agreed to make an Americanized version of the film to ensure understanding for a global audience, and Cool Runnings was criticized for perpetuating caricatures.
Cool Runnings director Jon Turteltaub and the cast open up about the controversy surrounding the characters’ Jamaican accents. Produced by Walt Disney Pictures and released in 1993, Cool Runnings was based on the true story of the first Jamaican national bobsleigh team at the 1988 Winter Olympics. The sports comedy starred the late John Candy as the former Olympian Irving Blitzer who coaches the four-man bobsleigh team, which includes Derice Bannock (Leon Robinson), Junior Bevil (Rawle D Lewis), Yul Brenner (Malik Yoba), and Sanka Coffie (Doug E Doug).
In a new interview with The Independent for the film’s 30th anniversary, Turteltaub and the Cool Runnings cast opened up about the controversy regarding the characters’ Jamaican accents. The actor credited as Leon says that Disney wanted him to “sound like a black Aladdin.” It was also suggested to Turteltaub that the cast sound like Sebastian the Crab, a Disney character with a Trinidadian accent. Read what the cast and director shared below:
Lewis: I saw it morph into the movie that it is now. It was something that had never been told before – Jamaicans in tights? People were like, “How’s this going to go under the Disney umbrella?”
Leon: They wanted me to sound like a black Aladdin. They wanted a Disney version. It was tough because if anybody wants to be authentic, it’s me — but I’m a professional and I had to do the job.
Yoba: They’d say, “People in Middle America won’t be able to understand you.” At that time, people had less access to cultural differences and didn’t know how Jamaican really sounded.
Turteltaub: The next day, I told the cast, “I’m going to get fired if you don’t sound like Sebastian the Crab. Please don’t get me fired.” We joked about it but they got it. They understood. “We’re not going to do Sebastian the Crab but we’re going to make an Americanized version of the movie that people around the world can understand.” Times have changed a lot in 30 years. There’s zero chance I’d get this job – and I probably shouldn’t get it. I’m on the side of the people who say I shouldn’t have directed this and yet we ended up with a pretty great movie. It’s tricky.
The Cool Runnings Controversy & History Explained
Before Turteltaub took over the movie, Brian Gibson was attached to direct a more serious take on Cool Runnings. Once Disney took over the film, they removed all references to sex and drugs and turned it into a family-friendly film. This creative shift caused Gibson to drop out and in turn, Turteltaub was hired, though he had several battles with then-Disney boss Jeffrey Katzenberg, who worried that the characters’ Jamaican accents would be difficult to understand. From that point on, this became a point of constant contention.
Katzenberg and company wanted a more Disneyfied version of the characters’ Jamaican accents, a “black Aladdin,” as Leon says. However, the cast wanted to present a more authentic Jamaican cadence. Katzenberg threatened to fire Turteltaub if he couldn’t understand the characters’ accents, so the cast agreed to “make an Americanised version of the movie that people around the world can understand.” While Cool Runnings would go on to become a beloved feel-good classic, it was criticized for perpetuating caricatures rather than authentic representations of the Jamaican dialect.
Source: The Independent