“Coping With Babylon” looks at the spiritual and ideological beliefs behind Rastafarianism’s stereotypical dope-dreads-reggae image. Notable is the increasing emphasis on the U.S. as a “New Babylon” of decadence, materialism and international oppression all expected to bring about a World War III-style biblical apocalypse (some even say the initials U.S.A. really stand for “Under Satanic Authority”). Informative if one-sided survey — there’s no discussion of many Rastas’ virulent homophobia, for instance, or of fact that women barely figure here — could win fest dates before accessing followers and music fans via disc sales.
Bouncing between Jamaica and New York, decently crafted pic lets scholars, musicians, converts, schoolmasters and others explain the religion’s basic principles, which vary somewhat from sect to sect — emphasizing in turn the teachings of the Bible, Marcus Garvey, and “Black Messiah” Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, the nation considered the “Mt. Zion” for these “true Israelites.” Footage shot there, as well as at concerts and rituals, enliven mostly interview-centered feature. In contrast to participants’ ideals of liberation and peace, they cite President Bush, Iraq, globalization, etc., as repping a modern “slavemaster mentality” sure to have cataclysmic consequences.