Charlie’s Records is a classic immigration story turned personal. Director Tina Charles is a WNBA all star, Olympic gold medalist and first-time filmmaker. Her documentary follows her father Rawlston Charles, who came to New York from Trinidad in the 70’s, opened a calypso record shop in BedStuy (subject of a 2013 NYTimes article), then turned his store into a record studio where he produced for all the calypso greats including early rappers like Slick Rick and Kurtis Blow. Rawlston is responsible for producing megahits like “La Di Da Di” by Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, and “Hot Hot Hot” by Arrow. Not only did he introduce Calypso and Soca culture to the United States; he also played a significant role in the invention of Hip Hop, the most popular American music genre today.
In sum, Charlie’s Records is a film about risk-taking. A timely testament to how the blending of cultures can create powerful offsprings, it’s a poignant reminder of the breakthrough talent we lose every time we put up our literal and metaphorical walls. It’s also about the challenges that shape us: from the pain of starting over to the joy of turning physical, cultural and financial challenges into unexpected art forms. Rawlston’s store is a cultural microscope, a music-filled lens focused on a central issue of our time: how a first-generation immigrant made his bones, and how the next generation — his daughter, Tina — was able to become an Olympic athlete and festival-level filmmaker. The American Dream made real.
For a first-time filmmaker, Tina Charles has a surprisingly assured hand. For example, she chose a playful animated style to depict Rawlston’s early days in Tobago and Trinidad, because “I was hearing those stories when I was about six or seven.” It also helped that the subject matter was so close to her heart. Charles knew how to tell her father’s story; she also knew it was her prime chance to get one-on-one time with her dad, who still goes to work every day.
This beautiful daughter-father love letter was so well received that TFF 2019 gave it a second screening. Check out our interview below, where we talk to the director about how she morphed from athlete to filmmaker; how Spike Lee and Jane Rosenthal reinforced her creative self-confidence; how she sees her film as a call to action for others; and what’s next for her filmmaking career.