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The Most Tragic Part of the Fyre Festival Is the Least Examined by Either Documentary

Mary Ann Rolle in Fyre (2019)

Between watching episodes of Sex Education this weekend, I also watched both of the Fyre Festival documentaries that were on Hulu and Netflix: Fyre Fraud and Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, respectfully.

In my opinion, the Netflix series looks prettier, but Hulu’s has much better content and shows the broad history of Billy McFarland’s previous scams, as well as Ja Rule’s role in the behavior. Also, it is worth noting that the Netflix doc was produced in part by Jerry Media, who did the social media for Fyre, and that Hulu paid Billy McFarland $200,000 for their interview.

Watching the dueling documentaries, the thing that left me the most disturbed was the treatment of the Bahamian people.

For those who may not know, the Fyre Festival was a failed “luxury music festival” that was supposed to coincide with the launching of a Fyre app that would allow you to book musical talents like Iggy Azalea and Ja Rule for parties. The festival was marketed through popular influencers using their Instagram platforms to sell this “FOMO” (fear of missing out) on an island experience that would get their followers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on villas and other island tour packages that did not exist.

After getting kicked off a different island, McFarland picked a location on the island of Great Exuma (in the Bahamas) for the festival, which did not have the infrastructure to hold the festival, nor did it have the space to hold as many people as it was meant to hold. Because they’d already spent all the money that people paid, it was impossible for them to give refunds, and McFarland, a clear narcissist, didn’t want to admit that this was a failure.

The solution was to then “hire” more local Bahamians to work, and they were often working 19-hour days. The Greatest Party that Never Happened highlights Maryann Rolle, owner of the Exuma Point Resort Bar & Grille. She paid the staff out of her own savings because she was never properly paid by McFarland.

At the end of Fyre Fraud, it’s mentioned that McFarland owes the Bahamian people upwards of a quarter of a million dollars in unpaid labor. Great Exuma was promised that this event was going to be a major economic growth to the island over the year, because it was meant to become a regular occurrence. Of course, that went without any understanding of the island. They planned the festival on the same day as the biggest boating event of the year. The leftover tents from FEMA were not able to protect the mattresses from the rain or mud, and everything slowly collapsed around them all.

Thankfully, since the documentary came out, the GoFundMe page that Rolle set up has not only succeeded in raising the money she lost, but exceeded the goal and honestly made me so happy for her:

“It has been an unforgettable experience catering to the organizers of Fyre Festival. Back in April 2017 I pushed myself to the limit catering no less than a 1000 meals per day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all prepared and delivered by Exuma Point to Coco Plum Beach and Roker’s Point where the main events were scheduled to take place. Organizers would also visit my Exuma Point location to enjoy the prepared meals.

“Fyre Fest organizers were also checked into all the rooms at Exuma Point Resort.

“As I make this plea it’s hard to believe and embarrassing to admit that I was not paid … I was left in a big hole! My life was changed forever, and my credit was ruined by Fyre Fest.

“My only resource today is to appeal for help.

“There is an old saying that goes ‘bad publicity is better than no publicity’ and I pray that whoever reads this plea is able to assist.”

In the doc, Kendall Jenner was reported to have been paid around $250,000 for a now-deleted post advertising the festival and indicating that Kanye West would be performing. Other models who were allegedly paid or promised something were Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Baldwin, Elsa Hosk, Chanel Iman, and more.

What these women knew about the festival is up for debate, but what remains true is that it was their status that made people pay for this event, and they got paid for it—something the people of the Bahamas haven’t seen.

As someone of West Indian background, watching McFarland going to Great Exuma, taking a huge dump on it, and thinking of it as just the backdrop of his great money-making enterprise is disgusting. He profited off of unpaid Black labor, and we have a word for that. What happened on Great Exuma just highlights how most people treat this area of the world. While I’m glad that Rolle got paid, that’s one person out of a group possibly hundreds of people.

As an American citizen, it is very up in the air as to whether McFarland will be held accountable for what he’s done on the island. While I understand that the people working on the Fyre app and others behind the scenes were unaware, the reality is that they were all mostly complicit in what was going on. As promoter Marc Weinstein says, every time they solved a problem, it allowed them to continue this fraud.

It’s easy to mock the seemingly mostly white kids who found a way to pay $950+ for their ticket to this debacle, but it speaks to the tourist way that white people treat the Caribbean: good enough for their vacations and their events, but not enough to treat the people humanely and think about the way they treat the land. I’m not a genius, but if I’m going to be paying $950 to go somewhere out of the country, I’d do at least the smallest bit of research first.

Both documentaries highlight the fraud that took place, yet neither really focuses on the people who, whether the festival was “successful” or not, would deal with abusive conditions to make that happen. Slave labor took place, and that can’t be ignored for FOMO.

(image: Netflix)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.

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