SANDRA L BLOOD
“I’m a proud Trinidad-born Capricorn, but American-raised. I have lost a sense of self, which has left me craving my culture. In the past five years my sisters have recently embraced Carnival as a fundamental part of their lives. They’ve inspired me to go deeper into the psyche of the Carnival woman, and as an added bonus, learn more about my culture.”
That was the declaraion from 36-year-old Noella Jeanique Charles, a graduate of Temple University, television executive, wife of Seye Charles and mother of two, six-year-old Phoenix and three-year-old Azai.
The daughter of Wendy Shepherd and Vince Legere and the eldest of nine siblings, Charles is also a specialist in film production and docuseries who has heeded her sisters’ advice and is learning more about her Trini/Caribbean culture.
Three years ago, spurred on by the frustration of trying to convince television executives that Caribbean culture exists, she embarked on a mission.
“It was clear to me that I needed to be the change I wanted to see, so with the help of my Trinidadian husband, we created our first piece of video at 2019 Carnival.
“That little bud blossomed into a full on production at 2020 Carnival, moments before the whole world shut down. I believe it was serendipity because had I waited another year to shoot the series, we would not have had a Carnival to shoot,” Charles said.
Bikini and Beads hit the streets in a different body, this time in documentary form.
“This effort is geared towards everybody who either loves, or is interested in learning more about Carnival. There is need to understand the drive behind women who attend Carnival, play mas, and why it is one of the most duplicated festivals worldwide.
“Women are the characters, women from all different socio-economic levels and walks of life who wait, save and prep all year long for their one moment of freedom. We are all wild women, who resent being tamed. Carnival is our safe haven, our one true place to feel alive.”
The series is still in the developmental phase but Charles is aiming for 50-minute episodes.
She said it is the first of many productions with the focus on women of Afro-Caribbean descent.
“Our stories and culture have been left out of mainstream media for far too long. It is my dream to continue to tell our stories,” she said.
“Bikini and Beads is only the beginning of many future projects to emerge from my own production company, Noella J Productions and Culture House Productions. I love Trinidad Carnival. It is an energy like no other.
“I have big plans for this big product as anything Carnival and culture is big. My agents shopped the idea around to a few production companies, but one of the owners of an all-female and minority-led production company, Culture House, immediately saw and understood the vision.
“The first time we met the owner and former White House staffer under the Obama administration, Carri Twigg, we recognized that she being of Bajan decent is also a Carnivalista. This is a sisterhood comprised of women from all levels of society who see Carnival as their refuge from antiquated and outdated societal norms. We want to share this project with the world and help Carnival gain mainstream notoriety.”
Apart from making video, Charles loves being a wife and mother, but puts self-care above all the rest, including exercise, meditation, prayer, travel and a bit of pampering.
She admits to being a lover of non-bikini-and-beads costumes and has attended Carnival many times, but is yet to play mas.
“I told myself, the year this docuseries comes out will be the year I will finally play mas,” she said.
Noella Charles and Bikini and Beads can be reached or followed at: @Noellajeaniquecharles, @bikiniandbeads, and www.Bikiniandbeads.tv