Picture (…) this vast audience that is reviewing this picture nightly gazing in rapture at the wonderful scenes that pass before their eyes hoping that sometime they will be able to visit this little island of Jamaica and gaze at these scenes in reality. This is what I want the Jamaicans to realize and prepare for.

In 1915, the American promotor, James Sullivan, wrote a series of articles for the Jamaica Gleaner (JG)2, Jamaica’s foremost national newspaper, about the location shooting of A Daughter of the Gods (1916), at the time the biggest Hollywood production ever undertaken. The Fox film starring Annette Kellerman was entirely shot in Jamaica and Sullivan was on location to accompany the famous silentera actress, both as her husband and manager. In his article series, as in the quote above, Sullivan emphasised the impact the moving picture would have on the island’s tourism appeal. According to the promotor, movie-going audiences worldwide would get acquainted with Jamaica and inspired to ‘visit the beauty spots of the island shown in this picture.’3 He anticipated that A Daughter of the Gods, which he called ‘the greatest film play of modern times,’4 would serve as ‘a tremendous advertisement for the island’5, and open the gateway to the island’s tourism future. According to Sullivan, ‘the Kellerman Fox picture’ would ‘acquaint the world with Jamaica’, and that ‘it now rests with Jamaicans how to present to the tourists the wonders of this island.’6

At the same time, Sullivan stressed the immediate advantages to Jamaica resulting from the location shooting of A Daughter of the Gods. He mentioned that the Fox Film Company was spending ‘a great deal of money on this island’7, particularly as the film’s budget was ‘the largest sum of money ever paid for a moving picture.’8 According to Sullivan, the production created temporary employment to ‘thousands of labourers’9, including a ‘vast amount of supernumeries’10, such as hundreds of ‘little native children’ who all received ‘a little ready money’.11 In addition, he pointed to the use of properties during the production period as well as the building of ‘huge laboratories’ and an ‘outdoor moving picture studio’ for the filming of A Daughter of the Gods and other moving pictures.12 In doing so, Sullivan referred to the potential of Jamaica as a regular film location. Following the location shooting of A Daughter of the Gods, director Herbert Brenon expressed his gratitude for the cooperation he had received from ‘the public officials, business men and natives of Jamaica’13, particularly governor William Manning and general Leonard Blackden, who had provided ‘every possible assistance’ during the period of filming (see Figure 1).14 Both Brenon and Sullivan also specifically thanked John Pringle, the ‘wealthy colonial planter’ whose property was used for filming ‘most of the important scenes’.15 Pringle, in turn, said that he had provided permission ‘for the people of Jamaica’, as he believed A Daughter of the Gods would become ‘the greatest advertising boom in the history of the island.’16

Figure 1 

A photograph in the Gleaner depicting a meeting between Herbert Brenon and the then Governor of Jamaica, William Manning. Source: JG, 22 November 1915.

The many Gleaner articles on the location production, and particularly the series written by Sullivan, offer an insightful example of the close ties between the film and tourism industries in the early twentieth century. The film’s production and marketing expose a synergistic relationship between the two international industries as early as the 1910s. In the past twenty years or so, scholars have increasingly explored the connections between film and tourism. Correspondingly, film tourism, i.e. the (until the global corona crisis) growing trend of tourists visiting the locations where movie productions have been filmed, became a new field of inquiry within both film and tourism studies. While most studies in the field have focused on the tourist activities generated after the making and release of a film, Ward and O’Regan, among others, have proposed to approach film tourism as a type of business tourism during the location production as well. In other words, Ward and O’Regan point to the ways in which governments increasingly respond to ‘the film producer as a long-stay business tourist, and film production itself as potentially another event to be managed and catered for.’17 Both types of film tourism are often referred to as recent phenomena. However, although their size and scope indeed became unprecedented in the past two decades, both types (or at least their envisioned potential) originated almost as soon as cinema emerged.

In the case of Jamaica, the interwoven history of film and tourism, or cine-tourism, began at the opening of the twentieth century, when the first foreign filmmakers arrived on its shores. The first time that moving pictures were discussed in the Gleaner as tools to advertise tourism on the island appears to be 1906, when the West India Committee, a colonial institution promoting commerce in the West Indies, aimed to capitalise on the opportunities of film as ‘valuable advertisement without cost’.18 They hired British cinematographer Alfred West to shoot Westward Ho! Our Colonies (1906–1907), a series of ‘West Indian views’19, including a dozen views of Jamaican ‘life, industry and scenery’, for ‘exhibition overseas’.20 However, it lasted until the 1910s, when the first fiction filmmakers arrived in Jamaica, that the island’s colonial officials and business elites started to really recognise the economic potential of hosting foreign film productions. Notably, during World War I (1914–1918), when the Jamaican tourism industry got on the verge of ‘an almost complete cessation’21, they came to consider the hosting of overseas moving pictures as an opportunity to promote the economically troubled island as a tourist and film destination.22 In 1915, British filmmaker Tom Terriss travelled to Jamaica to film Pearl of the Antilles (1915) and Flame of Passion (1916). The Jamaica Tourist Association (JTA), set up in 1910 by a group of local businessmen, showed great interest in using the dramas to advertise Jamaica abroad. In addition, the Business Men’s Association of Kingston expressed the hope that the location filming would lure ‘other picture producers’ to the island and establish Jamaica as ‘a producing place of pictures’.23 A few months later, the island came to host A Daughter of the Gods, with a record-budget of over one million dollars considered to be one of the first, if not the first, Hollywood ‘“blockbuster” spectacles’.24

Apart from – or, better, inclusive of – its connections with tourism, the location production of A Daughter of the Gods should be related to empire, i.e. the colonial enterprise that still dominated the island’s (and the world’s) political order throughout the first half of the twentieth century. In this late colonial period, Jamaica was a British Crown Colony with ‘a semi-representative government – that is, the legislature was partly elected and partly nominated, but it was a form of Crown Colony administration, nevertheless’ – which it remained until the island’s independence in 1962.25 The colonial project was also extended into the realms of cinema and tourism. In the early twentieth century, and very much until the present day, both realms were forms of leisure imperialism26 that not only adhered to empire, but actively facilitated the colonial project and its hierarchical power relations. The early period of both cinema and tourism in Jamaica overlapped with the peak of classical imperialism, when the European empires tried to consolidate their stranglehold over the globe and the United States rapidly expanded into one of the world’s major colonialist powers. Following Shohat and Stam,

It is mosty significant (…) that the beginnings of cinema coincided with the giddy heights of the imperial project (…). The most prolific film-producing countries of the silent period – Britain, France, the US, Germany – also ‘happened’ to be among the leading imperialist countries, in whose clear interest it was to laud the colonial enterprise. The excitement generated by the camera’s capacity to register the formal qualities of movement reverberated with the full-steam-ahead expansionism of imperialism itself.27

In a similar vein, Bruner, among others, has argued that tourism and colonialism ‘were born together and are relatives.’28 Tucker and Akama contend that the development of tourism in colonial states reflected ‘the economic structures, cultural representations and exploitative relationships’ of empire.29 Zooming in on the Caribbean, Perez claims that ‘travel from metropolitan centres to the West Indies has served historically to underwrite colonialism’ in the region.30 Since the early 2000s, an increasing number of studies have appeared that examine the history of tourism in the Caribbean as a colonial practice and discourse.31 These studies not only joined the body of critical research exploring the negative impacts of Caribbean tourism, but also complemented the literature on ‘the vexed history of visual culture’ in the region during the colonial period and beyond.32

The aim of this article, then, is to evaluate the location production of A Daughter of the Gods in Jamaica on the basis of the Gleaner – ‘Jamaica’s leading newspaper throughout the twentieth-century colonial period’33 – and other relevant historical newspapers and magazines, mainly from the United States, and to demonstrate the close ties between film, tourism and empire on the island and beyond in the early twentieth century, both materially and ideologically.34 In so doing, the article reflects a twofold comparative perspective: between different histories and between different countries. Following Musser, I find it crucial to ‘imagine cinema as an element (…) of other histories.’35 My ongoing archival research into Jamaica’s film history has forced me to consider the island’s tourism history as well, since the sources I found made clear that productions shot on the island were almost always translated in touristic terms, i.e. how can film production and exhibition help promote Jamaica as a holiday destination? At the same time, with the acknowledgement that ‘the dominant European/ American form of cinema’36 was a colonialist cinema or cinema of empire37, I situate my work in the field of critical colonial film historiography38 or postcolonial cinema historiography.39 Despite the rise of such historiography40, the early cinema histories of the Caribbean have remained largely unexposed. As Hambuch argues, ‘scholarship in Caribbean film studies has been scarce’41, and this applies even more to the study of Caribbean film histories. More specifically, Jamaica’s early film history has, notwithstanding some notable exceptions, hardly been dealt with, particularly in relation to the island’s tourism and colonial histories.

This article focuses on the ‘global conditions of production’ and the ‘interconnected organizational cultures that characterize the film production industry.’42 Biltereyst and Meers rightfully indicate that, ‘given the international dimension of the film industry in terms of production, trade and consumption, the comparative mode has always been present in some form or another in film criticism and film studies.’43 However, they also argue that, so far, discussions of ‘crossnational flows’ of films and filmmakers have mainly addressed ‘the relationship between Hollywood and European cinema’ or within a ‘continent like Europe.’44 The early relationship between Hollywood and the colonial Caribbean has not often been explored. One of the reasons for this scarcity could be that, historically, the position of the region within the world of film was, at least until the 1970s, that of ‘a receiver/consumer of and a resource for Euro-American productions (in terms of its use as location)’.45 The early twentieth century utilisation of the Caribbean as a location for ‘foreign productions which exploit(ed) the natural/physical endowment of the tropical islands’46 has not been a common subject of investigation. However, given the above-mentioned ‘global conditions of production’ and the ‘interconnected organizational cultures that characterize[d] the film production industry’47 from the onset, early Hollywood film history is also Caribbean colonial film history and vice versa. All in all, this article seeks to contribute to the discussion of the interconnectedness between cinema, tourism and empire, and between Hollywood, the British Empire and Jamaica, by revealing the colonialist cine-tourist practices and discourses of A Daughter of the Gods, one of the most important American (lost) moving pictures of the silent era, and one of the most significant global imperial tourist films of the early twentieth century.48

Setting the scene: colonial travelogues and the cinema of exotic attractions

At the close of the nineteenth century, film succeeded photography as the most advanced visual medium of the time. The initial period of cinema has often been characterised as cinema of attractions, a term introduced by Gunning to designate early cinema’s fascination with novelty and curiosity about the new technology of visual display.49 The attractions of early cinema were largely based on its ability to present objects and events ‘as real as life’.50 According to Popple and Kember, cinema was widely regarded as ‘an objectified recorder of contemporary life, an adjunct of the “scientifically rational” art of photography, with the added dimension of movement.’51 As such, cinema came to the public as the ultimate ‘reality capture’ technology.52 Taken in by its ‘startling realism’53, spectators of early cinema were most fascinated by moving images of real events. Such actuality films, or actualities, typically depicted current affairs, official events and everyday scenes. While domestic actualities enjoyed significant popularity, early filmmakers also extensively travelled the world to record moving pictures of more distant places and peoples. The shorts they brought back for viewing on screens in Europe and North America were promoted as scenic views and would later become known as travelogues.54

Travelogues became among the most prominent moving pictures of early cinema and were ‘a regular part of the moviegoing experience from cinema’s inception through the middle 1910s.’55 According to Bruno, early travel films provided millions of people ‘a set of travelling pleasures’ that turned them into ‘enthusiastic voyagers’.56 Ruoff even proposes to view early cinema as a ‘machine for travel’, arguing that watching travel pictures offered experiences similar to those produced by modern means of transportation.57 At the same time, for the more affluent metropolitan audiences, these films increasingly served as ‘a stimulant and preparation’ for actual travel.58 The medium of cinema appeared in a period when tourism took off as a major force in Euro-American popular culture. Kirby asserts that travelogues came to participate in an emerging touristic consciousness, ‘a fascination exerted by foreign images.’59 According to Bruno, early cinema was highly shaped by this consciousness, which stemmed from ‘new means of transportation, architectures of transit, world expositions, (…) aesthetic panoramic practices, (…) travel photography, the postcard industry, and the creation of the Cook tours’; indeed, ‘film was affected by a real travel bug.’60 Cinema became immediately identified as a powerful means of promoting tourism. From the onset, railway and steamship companies were interested in the use of film for the marketing of their travel packages. They entered into arrangements with film production companies to facilitate filmmakers in the making of travel films in exchange for promotion. According to Gunning,

the connection between early American travel films and the transportation industry is proudly displayed in early film catalogues. (…) In all cases the transportation companies sponsored these films with the specific intention of encouraging tourism along their routes.61

Even if the majority of the cinemagoers were not yet involved in international tourist activities, travelogues still conferred ‘a tourist point of view on their spectators’.62

From the onset, cinema was not only closely aligned with tourism but also with empire. According to Griffiths, early cinema ‘followed the geographical itineraries and ideological rationales of colonial expansion’.63 The reaches of empire set the film camera in motion, both literally and ideologically. The journeys of early filmmakers, and of ‘Euro-American image factories’64 more generally, were dependent on, and hence complicit with, the routes of the colonial project:

The acquisition of new territories, coupled with the explosion of tourism, meant that itinerant cameramen and production companies could set up the base in colonial expatriate communities and shoot films of native societies under the protection of the governing authority.65

The popularity of war and other imperial actualities evidences early cinema’s immediate preoccupation and alignment with colonial expansion.66 However, travel films constituted an integral part of the cinema of empire as well. As Bruno argues, ‘in touring cities, exploring landscapes, and mapping world sites, early film also “discovered” otherness, made it exotic, and often acted as agent of an imperialist obsession.’67 Similarly, Chapman and Cull state that ‘images of imperial splendour’ and ‘pictures of exotic lands and customs’ were ‘a natural for the travelogues’.68

Around the mid-1900s, with the rise of the nickelodeons in the United States and the establishment of commercial film distribution and exhibition worldwide, cinema entered a next phase. Although travelogues and other actualities ‘continued to be a major presence on cinema screens’ throughout the following decade,69 fiction films came to dominate the screens. The great majority of these dramas were shot in a studio or on location close to the studio. By 1912, most of the major film companies in the United States had bought land for ‘studios, standing sets, and back lots’ in California, and by 1915 most American films were already made there.70 Concurrently, in Britain, several big film studios emerged as well, most of them in London. Still, while most film companies heavily relied on studio filmmaking, they also still sent out crews to different parts of the world to capture dramatic events on location. The first film teams coming to Jamaica to shoot fiction films were the Vitagraph Company in 1910, the British and Colonial Kinematograph Company (B&C) in 1913, and the already mentioned Terris Feature Film Company in 1915.71 These foreign productions extended the links between cinema and tourism in the realm of fictional filmmaking, and paved the way for the first feature-length drama filmed on the island.72

After the location production of Pearl of the Antilles and Flame of Passion, Terriss told the Gleaner he planned to return to Jamaica to ‘erect a moving picture studio somewhere in this island, and stop here for six months each year.’73 Besides the hospitality he had received, the filmmaker considered the ‘wonderful variety of the scenery’ as the ‘island’s greatest charm’ and one of the reasons he wanted to come back, as there was still ‘so much to be obtained’.74 In addition, Terriss identified Jamaica’s black population as offering great picturesque possibilities: ‘Natural scenery is only a small part of the good things waiting the camera (…). The negroes themselves, with their quaint ways, are an abundant source of good material.’75 Terriss provided the example of ‘the strange baptismal ceremonies’ performed by a ‘black Messiah’, which he had caught on camera ‘from ambush behind a screen of cactus.’76 The qualities highlighted by Terriss echoed the main lines of promotion that were used to attract tourists to Jamaica since the advent of tourism on the island in the 1890s: modern hospitality, tropical fecundity, and exotic people. The latter, exemplified by the ‘quaint’ and ‘strange’ fashions of the black population, was almost considered as picturesque as the island’s tropical landscape. In fact, Terriss here joined the early ‘tourism image makers and travelers’ who ‘framed the island’s black population as parts of the tropical scenery.’77 At the same time, the startling manner in which the filmmaker had obtained the images of the people, secretly without their knowledge and consent, demonstrates the lack of humanity black people in the colonies possessed in the ‘conquering eye of the motion picture camera’.78 In doing so, Terriss followed in the tradition of early colonialist filmmakers who,

just like freebooting imperialists in their quest for plunder, (…) scurried all over the globe, frenetically gathering images – exotic, arcane, bizarre, sensational, revelatory – which became “the reality” about the world for millions of people.79

Although Terriss never carried out his intention to build a film studio in Kingston, he did induce another film company to the island. A few months after his departure, Terriss wrote a letter to the Jamaica Tourist Association announcing that ‘a very large organization for taking moving pictures’ was coming to Jamaica.80 He stated that the company was going to spend ‘a great deal of money’ on the island and emphasised that it was mainly through his efforts that ‘this has been all brought about.’81 He further added that the two films he had made in Jamaica ‘turned out to be so extraordinarily successful that it has filled other people with a desire of coming down’ as well.82 The JTA responded by sending a letter to Terriss expressing ‘the appreciation of the advertisement he has given Jamaica’.83 In the Gleaner, Terriss was widely praised for the ‘splendid service’ of ‘booming us’.84 The newspaper stated that is was through his efforts that ‘Jamaica is coming in for a lot of useful advertisement abroad, and it would seem that this island will, in [the] future, figure large in moving picture shows.’85

The film company that Terriss had lured to Jamaica was the Fox Film Corporation, the company that had just been formed by American theatre chain pioneer William Fox. In August 1915, a team of about thirty ‘moving picture artists’86 from the company arrived from New York in Kingston to produce a series of films on the island. According to the Gleaner, the delegation was ‘the first batch of a large number of the leading moving picture actors and actresses that will come to these shores.’87 Their filmmaking trip was intended to result in, at least, five Fox films: A Wife’s Sacrifice (1916), The Spider and the Fly (1916), The Marble Heart (1916), The Ruling Passion (1916), and A Daughter of the Gods (1916). The latter, an aquatic fantasy adventure set in ‘The Land of the Orient’88 and starring ‘Australia’s Diving Venus, Annette Kellerman’89, was by far the most ambitious production to be made on the island. In fact, the four other films were primarily ‘by-products of the great drama’90, shot in Jamaica to ‘offset the expense of the big one.’90

With a record-budget of over one million dollars, A Daughter of the Gods allegedly became the most expensive film production ever attempted by an American film company.91 Two years earlier, Kellerman had already worked with Brenon on another aquatic fantasy picture, Neptune’s Daughter (1915). This film was shot on location in Bermuda, the oldest British colony and an emerging tourism hotspot. With a budget of $35,000, the Universal Pictures production grossed over one million dollars worldwide, making it one of the most successful box office hits of its era. The success was largely attributed to Kellerman’s aquatic performance and Bermuda’s exotic appeal (see Figure 2). According to one critic at the time,

Figure 2 

A film poster of Neptune’s Daughter, emphasizing both Kellerman’s aquatic performance and Bermuda’s exotic appeal. Source: Universal (1914, public domain).

Universal Pictures must believe they have uttered the last word in photoplay art. The wondrous beauty of the story (…), the enchanting scenes afforded by the Bermuda Islands with their coral reefs (…) semi-tropic verdure and the vast expanse of wide Atlantic: the company of over 200 actors headed by Miss Kellerman who, aside from marvellous aquatic feats (…), proves that she is also a splendid actress, a graceful dancer, an expert swordswoman and mistress of a hundred arts (…) the masterly staging of the drama by Herbert Brenon – all these are factors (…) help to make Neptune’s Daughter a production to be watched with delight.92

Following the success of the their first feature-length water fantasy film,93 Brenon, now working for Fox, decided to travel to another British island colony for his next, even more lavish, production with ‘his aquatic star’.94

The production of A Daughter of the Gods: colonial hospitality and exotic tropicality

For A Daughter of the Gods, Brenon decided to shoot in Jamaica because of his and the island’s position within the British Empire:

Because I am a British subject and also because I made my greatest picture in Bermuda (…) I thought (…) I should make the next picture [again] in a British colony, and so I have selected Jamaica, which I think will provide us with ample scenery and every hospitality that we should expect.95

Although the director did not mention Terriss as his advisor, he stated the same reasons for visiting Jamaica as his predecessor. In addition, both filmmakers thought of themselves as loyal British subjects who, besides considering colonial rule as self-evident, expected to receive the most hospitable reception for the advantages they supposedly brought to the island colony. In reality, the practice of hospitality at play could be seen as what has been referred to as colonial hospitality. With this form of hospitality, ‘the arrivant turns into a colonizer, invader, or occupier’, whereas the original hosts become ‘powerless guests in their own land’.96 While the Terriss crew already showed signs of invading guestturned-host filmmakers, the production of A Daughter of the Gods pushed the ‘transformation of guests into hosts’97 to new limits. As such, Brenon’s ‘film extravaganza’98 helped establish the colonial practice of temporarily transforming landscapes and exploiting resources by Hollywood runaway productions. As Gibson notes,

A Daughter of the Gods set the standard for the tradition of the impermanent imperialism of big-budget Hollywood film shoots. The film crew would arrive, taking over not only the location but the entire landscape and the local economy for the term of the film’s production. Just as suddenly, like a colonial power, they would strategically withdraw, leaving the country bereft of patronage. Because most of the world had been discovered and colonised by 1915, directors, behaving like true imperialists, went to exotic locations and made their own worlds in which, for the duration of the shoot, they were absolute rulers.99

During the location production of A Daughter of the Gods, the Fox Film company almost treated Jamaica as a tabula rasa, open to the transformation and domination of the environment. In doing so, they perpetuated the colonialist practices of shaping, using and controlling ‘empty’ spaces instigated by plantation slavery and paradise tourism.100 During the production period, the island’s colonial administration did much to ‘facilitate the operations of the company.’101 While the state’s servicing came together on an ad hoc basis, the filming was approached as a highly profitable venture that should be accommodated in any way. Brenon allegedly even received ‘special permission of the British government’102 to shoot on the island.

Newspapers that reported on the shooting of A Daughter of the Gods suggest the freedom the crew had to rearrange the Jamaican landscape according to the needs of the ‘fantastic fairy tale’.103 Brenon integrated major film sets into the natural environments. For example, the production team transformed the entire base of the Roaring River Falls into a miniature gnome village, replete with ‘huts, streets, [and] bridges’.104 In addition, the team ‘diverted a river from its course’ and ‘razed a range of hills’.105 In another instance, the Fox crew built an entire Arabic city at Fort Augusta along the Kingston Harbour shoreline. At the time, Fort Augusta was by and large ‘a ruin surrounding a swamp, the home of landcrabs, mosquitoes, sand-flies’.106 Brenon obtained approval from the British Foreign Office to restore the fortress and to use the surrounding wastelands for the purpose of his moving picture. He hired local workmen to rebuild the fortress and to drain the swamp. In order to clear the area from flies and mosquitoes, he ordered tons of disinfectants from New York, with the result that, according to one British reporter, ‘the plague-spot was turned into a pleasure resort.’107 In addition, for the film’s final scenes at Fort Augusta, Brenon acquired a fleet of historic sailing vessels and brought in dozens of lions, tigers, elephants, donkeys, lizards, camels, and other animals from the New York Zoo.108 Eventually, according to the filmmaker, the huge sea-front set consisted of

a palace, a castle, a mosque, an Arabian slave market as well as a regular market place, and practically everything one could hope to see in an Arabian city, based to a great extent on the story of the ‘Arabian Nights’.109

The complete Arabian city at Fort Augusta was built in three months at a cost of $350.000110 – only to be demolished again a few months later for the final scenes in which the huge set was consumed into flames.111 Finally, the fortress was ‘smashed to pieces by the West Indian squadron of the British navy’112, to be left as ‘a waste once more’ (see Figure 3).113

Figure 3 

Two photographs in the Gleaner depicting the work of the Fox Film Company at Fort Augusta, on the left ‘Mr. Brenon working at Fort Augusta under difficulties’ and on the right ‘the sultan’s palace at Fort Augusta.’ Source: JG, 29 January 1916.

The sets of A Daughter of the Gods were not only intended to be temporary, but also to make Jamaica stand in for an imaginary fantasyland. Brenon’s moving picture portrayed an exotic-erotic fairy tale set in a mythical Arabian world. The film, in summary, chronicled

the tale of Sultan Omar, who promises to help the Witch of Evil to destroy the mysterious Anitia if only she will revive his drowned son Omar. Ten reels later, having escaped to Gnomeland, Anitia leads the gnomes to Omar’s defense.114

Reportedly, A Daughter of the Gods consisted of ‘a collage of fantasy, fairy tale, melodrama, and sexual display’115, featuring ‘lavish scenic displays’ typical of the costumes pictures of ‘the early feature scene’.116 Evidently, the tropical environment of Jamaica provided the exotic wonderland Brenon was looking for. The island’s tropicality played an essential role in the creation of the ‘oriental fantasy’.117 The director explained that the tropical scenery of Jamaica ‘fit in very nicely’ with the film’s ‘Arabian fairy story’.118 Similarly, Sullivan stated that the ‘wonderful beauty’ of the island offered a ‘fitting framework’ for the ‘fairy-like story’.119 He even described Jamaica as the ‘garden spot of the world’, the biblical earthly paradise he had always dreamt of.120

All in all, the Jamaican landscape in A Daughter of the Gods became, like many colonial landscapes in Hollywood cinema before and after, ‘the stuff of dreamy adventure’ in tropical paradise.121 For the purpose of Brenon’s film, Jamaica was transformed into what in a different context has been called a ‘space of radical dépaysement’.122 The notion of dépaysement, literally translated ‘out-of-nation-ness’, represents the simultaneous ‘attraction of geographical defamiliarisation’ and ‘separation of the lost homeland’.123 In order to make Jamaica look like another world, the landscape had to be removed from its identity and history, and to be supplied with settings and meanings imported from somewhere else. The island was, like so many colonised states in the margins of empire, designed to produce ‘raw visual material; exotic views for the centre of the empire’.124 As such, Jamaica was made part of the early imperial tourist spectacle and constructed through an orientalist tourist gaze for the enjoyment of metropolitan armchair travellers. At the same time, A Daughter of the Gods actualised the practice by Hollywood runaway productions of using Jamaica as transposable otherness, i.e. the exploitation of the island as ready-made exotic tropicality.125 In so doing, the film prepared the terrain for the future branding of Jamaica as a transposable location fit to evoke a variety of tropical settings (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 

The film A Daughter of the Gods (1916) has been lost, but a ten minute condensed reconstruction was made in 2017 by Trench Art Productions, mostly based on film stills, production photos and title cards.

Undoubtedly, A Daughter of the Gods also instigated the cinematic practice of sexualising the Jamaican landscape. From the onset, it was clear that the film would inscribe erotic spectacle into the island’s exotic tropicality through the physical performance of Kellerman. Brenon stated that his film was first and foremost ‘made to exploit’ his star actress126, whose career was largely based on bodily display. In her role as water nymph Anitia, Kellerman was often seen unclad while strolling through a waterfall landscape with only her long hair covering her breasts and pubic area (see Figure 5). According to Variety, Brenon had filmed ‘his aquatic star in the nude on every possible occasion.’127 The long ‘personal scenes’ with the actress128 at the Roaring River Falls were unambiguously invested in the erotic connotations of tropical environments and particularly tropical waterfalls. According to Hudson, A Daughter of the Gods established the ‘long association’ of ‘eroticism on the silver screen’ with Jamaican waterfalls, which since have ‘often been used as settings for adventurous exploits or romantic, even erotic episodes.’129 As such, the film foreshadowed the equation of the Jamaican landscape with sexuality and hedonism, prefiguring the future ‘marketing of the Caribbean via imagined geographies of tropical enticement and sexual availability’130 (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 

A publicity photo of A Daughter of the Gods, depicting Annette Kellerman unclad in a Jamaican waterfall landscape, with only her long hair covering her breasts and pubic area. Source: Fox Film Corporation (1916, public domain).

A Daughter of the Gods as early cine-tourism: the spectacle of production and exhibition

During the almost 9-month filming period on the island, A Daughter of the Gods reportedly made a significant impact on Jamaica’s economy. First and foremost, the production provided temporary employment for ‘thousands of Jamaica[n] people’ behind and in front of the camera.131 According to the Gleaner, Brenon had ‘spent on native labour here over $165.000’, including ‘dressmakers’, ‘an average of 550 people (…) in the Manufacturing and Construction Departments’ and ‘from time to time in the capacity of extra actors, 61.000 local people (see Figure 6).’132 According to the Jamaican newspaper, the director even established ‘a special municipality’ near Fort Augusta for the thousands of locals he hired during the filming period there.133 According to the Gleaner, Brenon first underpaid his Jamaican labourers, but after the newspaper protested against this a ‘higher daily wage for thousands of people’ was secured.134 In addition, the stay of the Fox team at the Myrtle Bank Hotel and their transportation to the various locations across the island created many short-term jobs in the accommodation and transport sectors. While Brenon initially arrived with about thirty staff members, on average his team consisted of ‘230 people for 8½ months’.135

Figure 6 

An advertisement in the Gleaner of the Fox Film Company offering temporary employment at Fort Augusta to ‘400 Natives!’ Source: JG, 18 February 1916.

For the duration of their stay, the Fox team remained in the Myrtle Bank at the Kingston waterfront. Apart from occupying guest rooms, they also built work spaces in separate annexes on the property to develop their film recordings in order to avoid the trouble and expense to send them back to New York.136 At the same time, Brenon set up the ‘headquarters of the Fox Film Company in Jamaica’ at Rose Gardens in Kingston137, which reportedly became ‘the finest outdoor moving picture studio that has ever been built’.138 Concerning transport, the Gleaner stated that

the company maintained its own transportation facilities between Fort Augusta and Kingston, (…) and its own automobile service between Kingston and St. Ann’s Bay, and between Kingston and Annotto Bay, during their operations at these points.139

After the filming, the Fox press department even stated, in the ‘Startling Facts’ about A Daughter of the Gods that were distributed to American newspapers, that the film company had used ‘an entire Caribbean island and all of its population (…) in the making of the picture.’140 Although grossly and grotesquely exaggerated, it points to the idea that the location production had a major employment impact on Jamaica.141

In addition, the filming of A Daughter of the Gods became a tourist event in itself, what Ward and O’Regan call ‘the spectacle of film production within the locale.’142 The Gleaner reported widely on the location shooting, with that attracting a great deal of interest. According to the newspaper,

the making of moving pictures is something new in Jamaica, and anything that gives an idea, even a faint and imperfect idea, of the methods employed and the mode of work will have an attraction for readers anxious to obtain a peep into the arcana of what has always appeared to them to be allied to the marvellous.143

Much coverage was devoted to the actors involved in the film production. Their visit created a buzz in Kingston and drew both journalists and ordinary citizens to the hotel where they were staying and rehearsing: ‘The Myrtly Bank Hotel presents a truly wonderful sight to the eyes of the visitors these days, for almost every corner of it you see the different actors holding their rehearsals.’144 In addition, a New York newspaper described the Rose Gardens studio as the new ‘show place of the island’ and indicated that the property’s staff was increased in order to meet the amount of visitors that came by (see Figure 7).145

Figure 7 

A photograph of the Gleaner depicting ‘the diving girls of the William Fox Film Company, who will appear as mermaids in the scenes along with Miss Annette Kellerman,’ at the Myrtle Bank Hotel in Kingston. Source: JG, 25 September 1915.

Apart from the direct economic benefits associated with the location shooting, and with that the consideration of the film producers as long-stay business tourists, the Gleaner also devoted much attention to the indirect economic benefits that would result from Jamaica’s inclusion in A Daughter of the Gods. As mentioned in the introduction, particularly Sullivan, Kellerman’s husband and manager, repeatedly stressed the publicity value of the film’s global theatrical exhibition for Jamaica in his Gleaner series. He regarded cinema as a new popular medium for tourism promotion:

The moving picture industry has advanced tremendously in the last three years. We are able nowadays to acquaint the public by projection on the screen with almost every object or scene of interest in the world. (…) We will to all intents and purposes carry back the island of Jamaica (…) by a process of photography.146

According to Sullivan, A Daughter of the Gods would publicise Jamaica’s natural scenery ‘in a way no amount of advertising could have done’147 due to the great scope of cinema across social classes and national boundaries:

[Cinema is] an entirely new channel that spreads its separate threads to the far distant parts of the world, for the Kellerman picture is such that it will be understood by all classes of people. The tremendous advantage of a picture of this kind is beyond comprehension, for Mr. Fox will be able to present it in any country. Just imagine for instance five hundred separate and distinct copies of this big picture being presented in different parts of the world (…) Have you any idea of what this means?148

Sullivan often wrote in great detail and in lyrical words on the locations that were used for filming. For example, about the parish of St. Ann, where the first weeks of the filming took place, he wrote:

Mammy Beach has been the scene of beautiful visions (…) of mermaids disporting themselves on the white, sandy beach, under the shade of the majestic coconut trees, and in the water of the sea. (…) Then, too, at Don Christopher’s Cove, with its small beach and massive coral formation, reaching out to the sea in line with the big ocean swell that comes in to break on the rocks with tremendous roar and splurge, all this, combined with the mermaids battling in the sea against the onrushing waves, will be an added thrill. (…) Then on to Runaway Bay Beach, where other spectacular scenes take place with Miss Kellerman and the mermaids. (…) She will again present her famous diving speciality in this new film play, this time to a greater advantage, owing to the important discovery of Durnock River, on the Sewell Estate, up near Dry Harbour. (…) On the road to Roaring River Falls, we pass for an instant at Dun’s River Falls, where some important views were taken, to be included in this Treasure Picture. Then too, where the Roaring River comes by the main road, Miss Kellerman will be seen in some remarkable artistic poses, and then on to the ‘wonder of wonders’, Roaring River Falls (…). This scene (…) will become one of the most talked about scenes in the picture.149

Apart from the tourism promotion through ‘the presentation of the picture itself’, Sullivan argued that the film’s publicity campaign, including ‘newspaper space’, ‘billing matter’, and ‘personal advertising’150, would also greatly increase Jamaica’s reputation. The American anticipated that within the United States alone, the island’s name would appear in over 5,000 newspapers as a result of the film’s promotional campaign.151 This campaign already started well before the release of A Daughter of the Gods, when shooting in Jamaica was still in full swing. As early as January 1916, the Fox press department started sending out press releases about the making of the film to American newspapers and magazines, hoping they would write about it.

One article that followed from these press releases also made headlines in the Gleaner due to its offensive portrayal of Jamaica. In the New York Morning Telegraph, a journalist described Brenon as the saviour of Jamaica while the island stood on the brink of ‘a financial crisis’ as a result of ‘earthquakes, wars, plagues, hurricanes’.152 According to the article, Brenon had not only created ‘a new industry’ in Jamaica, but also founded ‘an educational fund’ to assure ‘the future prosperity of the island’.153 After hearing about the article, the Gleaner published it in its entirety and provided severe critique. They condemned the representation of Jamaica as an island ‘afflicted with plague, pestilence and sudden death, (…) only [to be] saved by the Fox Film Company’, and Jamaicans as ‘uncivilised fools or savages, or as people waiting with open arms to welcome benefactors.’154 According to another critic, the Morning Telegraph journalist implied that Jamaica owed ‘huge indemnity’ to Brenon ‘for being brought within the pale of civilization.’155 The director immediately expressed his regret for the ‘ridiculous article’ of ‘some overzealous journalist’ and requested Fox to ‘instruct the Press Department in each of its articles to write of the island and its people in appreciative terms, both so thoroughly deserve.’156 Brenon reiterated his gratitude for ‘the generosity and hearty co-operation’ he had received while filming in Jamaica.157 To undo the damage, he proposed to place ‘the line “Made in the island of Jamaica” (…) upon the main title’ of the film, which would help ‘startle the world because of its natural beauties.’158 The Gleaner accepted Brenon’s explanation and concluded that the director ‘can be of use to Jamaica and Jamaica can be of use to him, and we want our business relations to be placed on this reciprocal basis and on no other.’159

Notwithstanding the incident, the expectations about the tourist potential of the film created considerable enthusiasm among Jamaica’s colonial officials and business elites alike. They recognised ‘the benefit that is sure to accrue to the island from the picture’160 and supported the showcase of ‘the beauties of our land’ to ‘millions of people all over the world’ through ‘the marvellous Kellerman-Brenon film’.161 As with the Terriss features, the Jamaica Tourist Association expressed the hope that A Daughter of the Gods would help promote Jamaica as a tourist resort for affluent travellers in the US, the UK and the rest of the world.162 Furthermore, they arranged a meeting with representatives of the Film Fox Company to see if they could do anything else ‘in regards to advertising the island’ abroad.163 More specifically, they asked if the moving picture company could produce ‘a film to advertise the beauties and attractions of Jamaica in different parts of the United States.’164 Such a travelogue film, they felt, ‘would be a very good means of inducing tourists to come here, and at the same time would be an effective all-round advertisement.’165 The Fox representatives agreed to make ‘a film typical of Jamaican scenery’ for the JTA ‘free of cost’.166 They also offered, although this time not free of charge, to organise the showings of the travelogue in the United States as ‘they wanted to do all they could do to assist in booming the island.’167

After the world premiere of A Daughter of the Gods in New York in October 1916, the film reportedly became an instant ‘big movie box office success’ and garnered widespread critical acclaim in the United States.168 The first reviews of A Daughter of the Gods in the New York newspapers were all published in the Gleaner, and reviews continued to be written in the following months and even years. The film had a long domestic theatrical run and a gradual international distribution. In addition, Fox rereleased the film in the United States in 1917, 1918 and 1920, each time generating a new round of press coverage. Many of the billings and reviews of the almost three-hour long film extolled two virtues, first and foremost the virtue of Kellerman’s body and secondly the virtue of the exotic setting: ‘Together with the daring of Miss Kellerman, (…) the natural beauty of the Jamaican seascapes and landscapes makes a picture of great attractiveness.’169 Still, most billings and reviews referred to the film’s tropical scenery in general terms. They usually did not mention Jamaica as filming location, but emphasised the ‘beautiful pictures to delight the eye of the spectator’ (see Figure 8).170 However, some critics did mention the location used in A Daughter of the Gods,171 and others not only identified the Jamaican settings, but also described them in highly favourable terms.172

Figure 8 

An advertisement of A Daughter of the Gods in a Canadian newspaper. While the moving picture was clearly promoted as a Kellerman spectacle, no mention was made of Jamaica as the shooting location. Source: Manitoba Free Press, 16 February 1918.

In Jamaica, A Daughter of the Gods only received its premiere in March 1919, well over two years after its original release in the United States, when it was shown in Kingston and later also across the island, including in Port Antonio and Montego Bay (see Figure 9).173 Although Jamaicans were reportedly ‘awaiting with unabated interest to see’ the picture ‘for the past many months’174, ‘Jamaica’s great picture’175 did not appear earlier on the island since it was allegedly ‘impossible to get the film here at a price that would suit the pockets of this very unwealthy community.’176

Figure 9 

An advertisement for the first screenings of A Daughter of the Gods in Jamaica in March 1919. The film was first shown in The Palace in Kingston, before it went to other venues across the island. Source: JG, 3 March 1919.

According to Palace Amusement, the distribution company having ‘more or less a monopoly for the entertainment of the inhabitants of the metropolis’177, they could only bring ‘the master film into the country’178 after the film’s rental costs went down due to its age.179 When A Daughter of the Gods was finally released in Jamaican theatres, it reportedly attracted ‘mighty crowd[s]’.180 While the plot was not always highly appreciated, as it supposedly left ‘much to be desired’, the film was considered a success from ‘the spectacular point of view.’181 In particular, the Gleaner stated that it contained ‘some very good reproductions of Jamaican scenery’.182 In one advertisement published in the newspaper, A Daughter of the Gods was even described as ‘the picture that has won fame through Jamaica’s charming scenery.’183 It were these kind of written endorsements that Jamaican tourism stakeholders had hoped to see (more) in American, British and other foreign newspapers when they envisioned the potential indirect benefits through the promotion of Jamaica in the film and the press. At the same time, it reminded them of ‘the good old days’ when the Fox Film Corporation was ‘spending money largely on the island’ and ‘some of the local people’ had ‘good times’, referring to the incidental direct benefits of hosting the major Hollywood runaway production.


In the period following the initial theatrical run of A Daughter of the Gods in the United States, Britain and elsewhere, it seems Jamaican tourism stakeholders were disappointed with the outcomes of the location production. The lack of press coverage in the Gleaner on the topic after its original release suggests that the film did not have the significant impact in terms of enhancing Jamaica’s reputation and increasing the number of tourists visiting the island as was anticipated. It was only years later, when subsequent foreign film companies arrived in Jamaica, that some critical reflections started to appear. The Gleaner, for example, argued that Jamaica had ‘lost a fine advertisement’ since Brenon had not kept his promise that he would ‘set forth on the moving picture screen that the scenes of “A Daughter of the Gods” had been taken here’.184 Indeed, the name of the island was eventually excluded from the film’s credits as well as most of the advertisements of the Fox Film Company. On top of that, the travelogue film that the Fox team agreed to produce and exhibit for tourist promotion purposes seemingly never materialised.185 When the English Film Company visited Jamaica in 1920, to make an actuality film on ‘all phases of the colony’s life’ for ‘educational purposes’, the Gleaner argued that it would be ‘the first time’ that Jamaica would be filmed ‘in this way’, and that it would constitute ‘a far better advertisement’ than A Daughter of the Gods.186 Furthermore, a year later, when the next ‘American moving picture concern’ came to the island to make another drama, Love’s Redemption (1921), it was praised that, this time, the Jamaican places ‘where its scenes were laid’ were ‘named on the screen’.187

Still, the production of A Daughter of the Gods took the awareness of the tourism potential of location filming and the collaboration between the film and tourism industries in Jamaica, to a new level. In one of the articles that Sullivan wrote for the Gleaner, the moving picture was mistakenly but very aptly referred to as an ‘ad venture’, with a space between ‘ad’ and ‘venture’.188 In ‘early, racist silent cinema’,189A Daughter of the Gods did not only set the tone for ‘colonialist adventure films’190 taking place in the British Empire, but also for the future of advertising ventures between the film and tourism industries in Jamaica and other ‘exotic’ European and American colonies. As early as the mid-1910s, the island’s interwoven history of cinema, tourism and empire definitely took off with Brenon’s ‘million dollar miracle’.191 From that moment onwards, the call to establish ‘a British Hollywood within the Empire’192, or at least ‘some sort of tropical Hollywood’193 that would encourage American and British filmmakers as well as tourists to visit Jamaica, became part of the island’s imperial tourist consciousness – and with that the envisioned road of its ‘chances of development’194 in the century to come. By connecting and integrating different histories and countries, the comparative history of early (empire) cinema both widens and deepens the understanding of the global workings of leisure imperialism. The cine-tourist practices and discourses of Hollywood’s A Daughter of the Gods in British colonial Jamaica demonstrate the historical and geographical interconnections between cinema, tourism and empire in the early twentieth century – and with that, the potential of a cross-industry and cross-border comparative perspective within film studies.