The Price of Sugar
On an island known for its tropical beauty, tourists flock to the resorts of the Dominican Republic. Not 10 miles away, thousands of dispossessed Haitians labor in the sugarcane fields under slave-like conditions, cutting cane that will eventually end up in the United States as sugar.
Narrated by Paul Newman, “The Price of Sugar” follows Father Christopher Hartley, a charismatic Spanish priest, as he organizes some of this hemisphere’s poorest people to fight for their basic human rights. Father Hartley must go up against one of the country’s most powerful sugar baron families, the Vicinis, and even the government of the Dominican Republic to give voice to these Haitians, frequently receiving threats to his own life. Filmmaker Bill Haney-in addition to documenting the abysmal living conditions of the cane workers-portrays a developing country trying to find balance between capitalism and the need for unskilled labor and the illegal immigrants who inevitably bear the load.
“The Price of Sugar” raises key questions about where the products we consume originate, at what cost they are produced and ultimately, where our responsibility lies.
I figured this documentary would be interesting, but it was even more than I had hoped for. Father Christopher Hartley, a teenage rebel, felt called into the ministry when he was age fifteen. His father describes him in the documentary as a person “who is all or nothing.” After working with Mother Teresa as a priest, Hartley lands in the Dominican Republic and comes to the aid of Haitian sugar plantation workers, who are paid ninety cents an hour, live in the worst kind of poverty imaginable, and work every day despite wounds on their bodies (from the work and from being beat) and malnutrition.
This film is alarming as it reveals a man who was beat arrived at the plantation dead and was simply buried in an unmarked grave. As the plantation owners grow rich, Hartley states he believes Americans would be embarrassed if they knew the price which is paid every day for them to have the sugar they put in their cups of coffee. The Dominican Republic and Haitian workers are our largest provider. We learn that Hartley’s presence has helped make things a bit better for the Haitians but there are those who constantly work at forcing him to leave. This documentary includes a few innocent scenes of nude children as they wash in the rain, take a bath and play. There are some violent moments which are alluded to with brief images, but nothing is graphic unless it is the pictures of starving children who are skin and bones. This is a fascinating documentary based on fact and we award our Dove Seal to the film for ages twelve and above, due to the mature themes. Father Hartley’s work is described by one Haitian woman as “totally for others and not himself. He gets nothing out of it.” It is a commendable stand he has taken.