Review: The Price of Sugar

The Price of Sugar

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.

Score: 
 Cast: Christopher Hartley, Jhonny Belizaire, Paul Newman  Director: Bill Haney  Screenwriter: Bill Haney, Peter Rhodes  Distributor: Mitropoulos Films  Running Time: 90 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2007  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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