UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

May I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?: The Price of Sugar

Documentaries focused on providing a window into the corruption or deceit of certain companies, political organizations, or current methods of production have been appearing more regularly in recent years. With Michael Moore’s Sicko and Fahrenheit 9/11 nearly topping the box office their opening weekends, and Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me earning an Oscar nomination, the timing for informative films is ripe.

Bill Haney’s film, The Price of Sugar, narrated by Paul Newman, takes a deeper look at the way sugarcane is cultivated in the sugar fields of the Dominican Republic, where thousands of exiled Haitians toil under the force of armed guards mere miles from beaches swamped with tourists.

Sugarcane plantations in the Dominican Republic implement many of the same mistreatments American slaves endured during the period of slavery in the United States more than 150 years ago. Workers are lured to the jobs by the promise of better pay, but are instead kidnapped and transported to bateyes, which are similar to plantations. Identification papers are taken from all those who work on the bateyes,.

Once the zafra, or harvest, begins, the Haitians work endless hours for pay that will hardly get them a meal. Children unlucky enough to be born into these conditions are not identified as Dominicans and generally grow up working the fields of the bateyes.

Workers are deprived of all viable healthcare and education, and, until recently, foremen carrying shotguns patrolled the plantations regularly. Those who have the audacity to question authority, or those who simply refuse to work, are placed in prisons or deported back to Haiti without any identification or money.

The Price of Sugar dares to take a behind-the-scenes look at the reality of what goes on behind closed gates. Parts of the footage were shot on the Vicini plantation. However, the images were reordered without their approval, creating a minor backlash.

A lawsuit was filed even before the film was released. The Vicini family isn’t happy about the whole world getting an in-depth view of what goes on at their plantation. They are attempting to have the release of the film denied, but things are not going their way.

Throughout the film, viewers follow a compelling Spanish priest, Father Christopher Hartley, as he goes about doing Gandhi-like work. The Father attempts to organize the poorest of the poor to confront those who seek profit and power via exploitation.

The Price of Sugar has been recognized in at least seven film festivals, and will soon be released nationwide. The movie is one that enlightens the public on a sad truth that has been hidden from the public eye for too long.

The purpose of making a film like this is not just to entertain, but also to inform. Those making the movie truly care about the issue, choosing to risk their lives shooting footage in a place where the chances are quite high that they may be harmed in order to bring the plight of these plantation workers to the public eye.