Sugar Cane Alley: Sharecroppers Are Little Better than Slaves and Other Depressing Facts

The next movie on our list is Sugar Cane Alley, a 1983 French film about a young, poor boy growing up in Martinique, and his grandmother who is determined that he won't end up working in the sugar cane fields.  It's ranked at 797 on the Top 1000 list.

A young, bright boy named Jose is living in poverty with his grandmother in 1930s Martinique.  They are the descendants of slaves who worked in the sugar cane fields, and really, besides a pittance Jose's grandmother brings home for her efforts, not too much has changed.  Despite the fact that Jose frequently gets into trouble with his friends while his grandmother's working, she refuses to let him spend the days working in the fields...she wants him to get an education and have a shot at a better life.

Jose is identified by his teacher as being an intelligent kid, and he chooses him to compete for a scholarship that will send him to a proper school in the city.  Predictably, he passes.  Only hitch is that it's a 1/4 scholarship - meaning that good old gran is going to have to come up with some serious cash if she wants Jose to go to school.  They move into a car crate (!?!?) in the city, and Gran starts doing rich people's laundry to help pay for tuition.  Luckily, Jose's teacher speaks to the scholarship board after reading his essay, which was so good it seemed like plagiarism.  Tuition is no longer an issue.

Gran goes back home to have another suit made for Jose (he's only got the one, and it's his uniform)...only she doesn't come back that night like she said.  Jose goes back to his village to find that she's suffered a heart attack, and she dies shortly thereafter.

Random Musings:

  • Holy shit, are those kids actually making a snake fight a mongoose?  I wonder why the PETA people weren't all over this movie.

  • I really like Jose - he comes off as subtly intelligent, but the film doesn't try to hit you over the head with it.

  • It's so sad when the old man is telling Jose his father's story about the end of slavery.  He ran so far and found himself back in Black Shack Alley - after all that, nothing had really changed.  Excuse me while I go curl in a ball in my closet and die.

  • Why is this movie called Sugar Cane Alley?  The French title translates to Black Shack Alley, and that seems like a much better title.  Just saying.

  • Ha!  Little drunk kids are hilarious.  Until they burn your house down for shits and giggles.  That's less funny.

  • Yeah, I'm sorry, I don't mean to endorse child abuse or anything like that, but I would have a hard time not beating the shit out of a group of kids who laughed while setting fire to everything I owned.  That would be a difficult impulse to control.

  • OMG, did the overseer seriously just tell off a pregnant woman working the sugar cane fields?  He's like, "You're always thirsty!" ... ... She's pregnant.  I'm not a doctor, but that's probably a contributing factor.

  • I like the grandmother.  She's rough, but she cares so much for Jose and doesn't want him to end up working in the fields.  I love how she is willing to do pretty much anything so that he can go to that special school.  The old girl has spunk.

  • Ahhhh it breaks my heart when that girl is chosen to compete for a scholarship, and her father turns down the opportunity because she needs to get a job.  I think it's one of the saddest things in the world when genuinely bright kids aren't allowed to flourish just because of their circumstances.

  • Carmen is hilarious.  I love the scene where he's reenacting the beginning of his affair with the boss' wife.  Playas gon' play.

I enjoyed this film. There's a wide variety of social issues that are addressed in this film, but they never become heavy-handed, preachy messages.  They simply serve to illustrate the richness and complexity of this society and, first and foremost, to tell a story.  I found the main characters engaging, from clever, eager to please Jose to his hardworking, determined grandmother.  I was also very interested in his two friends - the smart girl who had to go to work to support her family, and Leopold, the half-Indian, half-white boy who was left all of his father's fortune but not his name (that name, apparently, is for white men, not mulattos).  Overall I think the film did a good job painting a very vivid picture of an interesting society, and all of the issues of race and socioeconomic status they face.

Thanks for reading, and come back next time when we watch Gunga Din!

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