On the Verandah with Travolta Cooper, Where In the World is Wally?
Where In The World Is Wally (WITWIW), which premiered on January 20, 2020, is a glass-shattering, dark, mysterious breath of fresh air centered around Bahamian folklore and oral history. Conceived by filmmaker Travolta Cooper, WITWIW expounds on the nuances of Bahamian culture, particularly superstition, faith and “magical realism”. Due to occasional power outages in Bimini, Cooper’s grandmother would tell him folktales, an old West African practice. The seeds of imagination planted by this interaction, produced the mystery-ridden series that now stands as the number one show on Cable TV on Monday nights.
While in an interview with Cooper, the conversation moved to the importance of storytelling and oral history; he shared, “It’s everything. You know, I think it’s who we are. The last episode was called the “Death Pinch”, and that was probably our most watched. It’s a phenomenon that every Bahamian knows of through folklore but it is never discussed in a public forum like this. That episode is about the belief or non-belief in the “death pinch”. It is a part of our oral history, which is a part of who we are.” Cooper went on to explain that a death pinch is the odd small darkening of the skin, also known as a blood bruise or a death mark, and research has helped him to understand that this occurrence isn’t idiosyncratic to The Bahamas, as persons from St. Lucia and even England engaged in a dialogue about the mark on social media. It was ironic that when this conversation took place, I was sporting a death mark on my right side.
Where In The World Is Wally is based on a story originating in Rum Cay about a dying man who was also an alcoholic. Cooper said, “It is a cautionary tale about drinking, basically… the man was dying, his spirit was traveling the world and he was running out of time to get back to his body. That was the Wally tale we knew… that was the story, the oral history in my family that was shared. At the core of the show, is an old Bahamian story that I modernized. I think Bahamian folklore sits in a very magical space. To bring the story to the screen, I had to ground it in magical realism. I had to make it real.”
While making strides within the sphere of Cable TV, WITWIW sits parallel to the comedy saturated entertainment market that we’ve all become accustomed to. For this reason, Cooper’s vision stands apart. Having an all-Bahamian cast and crew, Where In The World Is Wally is filling the gap for Bahamians who want to see themselves on television. Furthermore, Cooper is utilizing the entirety of the creative arts community to execute his vision. In episode four, alone, the audience sees well-known Bahamian artist Allan Wallace playing “Potcake” and aerial views of Antonius Roberts’ Sacred Space located on Clifton Pier. Moreover, parts of the episode were shot inside the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB).
When questioned about the involvement of the NAGB as a location for the episode, Cooper replied, “The arts community is a huge theme in the show. Wally, himself, is a musician and he has people like Allan Pachino Wallace drawing on the board and doing murals at Shipwreck. Where in the World is Wally is also ‘Where in the world is the Bahamian arts’. There’s a whole episode that’s dedicated to the legacy of Joseph Spence and Amos Ferguson. The arts community is a huge theme as is the support or the lack of support of the community. On a personal level, the NAGB has been the most supportive space. Whether it was the film screenings I did, or the NAGB through Amanda Coulson (NAGB Executive Director) sponsoring my show The Cinemas, it has always been a support system for me as an artist and filmmaker.”
The NAGB served not only as a backdrop for some scenes within the series, but one of the characters is playing an art curator employed by the museum. Cooper attributes the success of WITWIW not only to his stellar cast and crew but to the support of David Burrows and Alexia Coakley at Cable Bahamas. “What they are doing is revolutionary. David said that the success of Wally is dictating the trajectory of Cable Bahamas,” Cooper commented. He went on to say, “Wally will go on record as the number one show on Cable TV at 8 p.m., which means it has beat every other channel: ABC, NBC and CBS. Bahamian content is number one on Mondays—that is huge to me. There’s a market and a desire…I think it’s bigger than Wally.”
Where in The World is Wally sits on the foundation of the Bahamian entertainment industry, while providing a framework for future projects of varied genres. Cooper’s ability to take parts of his heritage to create nationally relatable content is a testament to his dedication to his craft. Furthermore, he shows us the power of community through his all-star cast and the inclusion of the creative arts community. Since its premiere, the first few episodes of WITWIW have been replayed. Last week, the TV series garnered almost 15,000 views. There is a market for varied Bahamian content and it is our hope that it will continue expanding.