On Friday in New York City, Tina Charles shuffled down the red carpet for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of her directorial debut film, "Charlie's Records" -- a documentary about her father Rawlston "Charlie" Charles' record store and label in Brooklyn. The press coordinator for the premiere was trying to get a shot of Charles alone, but she kept hopping into photos with friends and acquaintances or waving people into the frame. The New York Liberty player wanted to stand alongside her teammates, her loved ones and her father.
Back in 2017, Charles and her former UConn teammate Kalana Greene were hanging out in Charlie's Records, a Calypso and Soca music store located in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Greene suggested that the legacy and influence of Charlie's Records would make for an excellent documentary. Charles had never made a film before -- she majored in psychology at Connecticut -- but was intrigued by the idea. She'd been pondering the significance of her father's backstory ever since she saw a photo of his record store in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Charles just needed a sign, something or someone to tell her that making a movie was feasible. She was able to discuss the concept with Academy Award-winning film director Spike Lee and Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal. They both provided her the encouragement she was longing. Lee even passed on a note to the budding filmmaker, that read, "Do your damn movie," according to the Associated Press.
"I didn't know my father was a pioneer for this genre," Charles said. "I thought I was just doing something for my family and friends to have, but then I realized I was doing something for the culture of Trinidad and Tobago because there's not [much] documented on Calypso and Soca music [a genre of music that originated within a marginalized subculture in Trinidad and Tobago]."
Charles is the youngest of her father's six children and grew up hanging out in her dad's store in the mid-1990s, after the height of Charlie's Records and Calypso music. Charlie opened the shop in 1972, after immigrating to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago, to sell Calypso and Soca records. He knew that many of the Bed-Stuy residents at the time were also from Caribbean nations and would welcome the sounds of home. Charlie even started to produce records, regularly traveling to Trinidad to work with musicians. And everywhere he went, he wore brightly colored suits. "I wanted to inject fashion into Calypso," Charlie said in the film.
The Tobago-born, Brooklyn-based Rawlston Charles has made it his life's work to share Calypso and Soca music with the world through his record store, Charlie's Calypso City, and label. First-time director @Tina31Charles pays tribute to her father, an important and unsung New York hero, in the inspiring documentary CHARLIE'S RECORDS, debuting at #Tribeca2019. Click the link in our profile to purchase tickets now!
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The triumph of "Charlie's Records" is that it is more than just Charlie's story. The film is a story of a Brooklyn community and how it has grown and changed over time. As Calypso gave way to hip-hop, so did Charlie's Records. Charlie built Rawlston Studios on Fulton Avenue above the shop where several influential early hip-hop tracks -- such as "La Di Da Di," released in 1985, by Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew featuring M.C. Ricky D (now known as Slick Rick) -- were recorded. "Charlie's Records" felt like a family reunion both on-screen and in the theater. The community showed up to support Charles and her father, as well as their own story.
But for Charles, the film was much more personal. She wanted to highlight the story of her neighborhood and her people. She also wanted to ask her father all of the questions she never did as a kid. The interviews with her dad, Charles did alone. It was the adult version of a kid sitting on her father's lap asking him about who he was before she existed.
"When his label was what it was, I wasn't born," Charles said. "This was my time to ask those questions and get to know my dad on a level that I didn't know him. That time for me was really special."
As the lights came on in the sold-out theater and the patrons began to leave, Charles stood at the door greeting every person who came to see "Charlie's Records." She hugged many of her New York Liberty teammates and coaches, as well as the production crew and her family, then shook the attendees' hands and thanked them for coming out.
"Charlie's Records" is part of Brooklyn's fabric. It's a story of the American Dream. And it's Charlie's story. Even as Brooklyn and, in particular, Bed-Stuy has evolved, Charles enshrined Charlie's Records forever.
"Everything has changed around him since then, but he's still there," Charles said.