Bill Haney’s The Price of Sugar could do without its close-ups of sugar being poured onto a spoon, and would benefit from providing more information about the United States’s close relationship with the Dominican Republic’s sugar trade, which this eye-opening doc vividly illustrates is predicated on ruthless slavery. Nonetheless, the director’s investigation has a clear-sighted persuasiveness, as well as a formidable, complex central figure in the person of Father Christopher Hartley, the son of Spanish aristocrats who—after years working with Mother Theresa in Calcutta—moved to the Caribbean island and promptly began upsetting his parish’s wealthy and powerful sugar barons, the Vicinis. Tagging along with Hartley, the film (narrated by Paul Newman) captures sights of concentration camp-level subjugation and abuse suffered by Haitians whom the Vicinis (and their industry brethren) illegally import, imprison at filthy outposts known as bateys, and force to work until their deaths. Hartley’s aggressive efforts to bring these heinous practices to light is given vivid life by Haney’s inquisitive camera, as is the priest’s staunch conviction in the face of mounting Vicini-sponsored smear campaigns aimed at compelling him to leave the country. An authentically benevolent man of the cloth (and people), Hartley nonetheless also proves politically cunning, organizing strikes within the bateys and bringing American doctors and media to his parish’s overworked, malnourished Haitian cane workers. However, he’s perhaps not quite as cunning as the Vicinis themselves, whose response to Hartley’s tactics involves effectively stirring up Dominican nationalistic (read: racist) hatred for the “poorer and blacker” illegal immigrants, and then blaming their presence in the country on Hartley. The Price of Sugar‘s motive is to open American eyes by illustrating where domestic sugar originates, yet the efficacy of such intentions are somewhat weakened by the director’s focus on Hartley rather than the close commercial ties binding the two nations. Nonetheless, as an exposé of corporate and state exploitation of the poor, his doc is nothing short of blistering.
- Mitropoulos Films
- 90 min
- Bill Haney
- Bill Haney, Peter Rhodes
- Christopher Hartley, Jhonny Belizaire, Paul Newman
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: