Review: A ‘soca’ dancer pursues her dream in Maya Cozier’s distinctive debut, ‘She Paradise’

A woman dancing in the movie "She Paradise."
Onessa Nestor in the movie “She Paradise.”
(She Paradise Inc.)
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Based on her own short film, writer-director Maya Cozier makes her feature debut with the vibrant Trinidadian drama “She Paradise.” It is a raw film in the cautionary tale it offers about an aspiring young soca dancer — to both its credit and its detriment.

Dance promises 17-year-old Sparkle (Onessa Nestor) a way out of her sheltered, impoverished life with her grandfather, Papa (Michael Cherrie). She sneaks out to audition to be a backup dancer with a troupe led by Diamond (Kimberly Crichton). When she eventually joins the group after some smart maneuvering, Sparkle discovers that following her dream isn’t what she expected as she’s thrust into a life of partying and older men.

With Cozier’s previous work as a choreographer, “She Paradise” works best in its dance sequences, though the camera angles are sometimes too tight to really see the dancers’ movements. But when it’s on full display, the dancers’ work is electric. The soca style is undeniably sexy as well as acrobatic, but the camera avoids the leer of the traditional male gaze in capturing how the women move their bodies to the rhythms. Instead, it simply observes and celebrates without exploitation.


Though the Trinidadian English dialogue is lively (especially in conversations among the dancers), the script from Cozier and co-writer Melina Brown follows predictable beats as Sparkle experiences the dark side of fame. Together with actress Nestor, they’ve created a talented, resilient young woman on-screen. However, the story is thematically muddy at best and problematic at worst in the ways it handles Sparkle’s newfound independence and the horrors she experiences. Despite these issues, the arresting images of “She Paradise” and the distinctive voice of its director mark Cozier as a filmmaker to watch.

‘She Paradise’

In Trinidadian English with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 19, Laemmle Glendale, Glendale; also available on VOD