Unbreakable: The U.S. Virgin Islands Story Of Resilience

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“When you close your eyes and think of these islands, you see a beach, some see a rum punch, but they don’t see the people.”

That sentiment of Caribbean countries often being seen as vacation hotspots versus where many people call home is at the core of why award-winning journalist and filmmaker Peter Bailey says he created the Paradise Discovered film series.

Developed from Bailey’s New York Times Op-Ed “Has America Forgotten the Virgin Islands,” this groundbreaking series chronicles the survival and rebuilding efforts of the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) in the aftermath of the devastating Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. The series also highlights the impact of climate change on the culture and people of the USVI.

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The latest installment of the film series is “Paradise Discovered: The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders 2.0”, which recently premiered in October.

Instead of opting for the usual red-carpet style premiere, Bailey was intentional about having the latest film in his Unbreakable series be shown to students first. He kicked off the screening tour with visits to Ivanna Eudora Kean High School and Charlotte Amalie High School students on the island of St.Thomas.

The St.Thomas native who experienced both storms firsthand famously wrote the Times’ piece while building a makeshift roof after the storms ravaged his family’s home. He made international headlines for criticizing the U.S. government’s handling of the islands’ recovery and calling out neglect from mainstream media in its coverage.

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He then directed and produced “Paradise Discovered: The Anguilla Connection” and “Paradise Discovered: The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders” before creating the latest installment of the series.

“What these storms did was unmask us. We saw a lot of issues we have in the Caribbean. One, we are too dependent on everyone else for our livelihood and our sustenance. We have to focus on sustainability rooted in self-sufficiency,” Bailey tells ESSENCE.

Building on concepts introduced in The Unbreakable Virgin Islanders, 2.0 features a cross-section of views from Virgin Islanders of various age groups and centers on several vital areas Bailey says need innovation in the USVI, such as food security, sustainability, technological development, the reinvention of tourism, redefining identity and entrepreneurship.

“The first film was about resilience. It was under duress and how are we going to survive? After that first film, I got upset with this constant talk of resilience,” Bailey says. “So 2.0 looks at where we are going from here.”

“There’s a heavy emphasis on food security, there’s a heavy emphasis on agriculture, there’s a heavy emphasis on self-sustainability because that first storm showed us how much we have to modernize to go into the future,” Bailey explains.

The documentary was filmed across the U.S. territories’, three main islands of St.Thomas, St.Croix, and St. John, and also features an in-depth interview with Governor Albert Bryan Jr. and a retelling of the Frostberg slave Rebellion of 1773.

“I think for very long, the larger Caribbean narrative has been very one-dimensional on the global landscape. It’s either beaches, booze, or a party. I want to make sure the world understands who we are as people, the soul of who we are,” Bailey says.

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