||Sugar Cane Alley
from the novel Joseph Zobel, Black Shack Alley
a boy pulling himself up by his bootstraps?
Setting: St. Martinique in the 1930s;
Black Shack Alley, Port-de-France
Characters: Major--Jose, Amantine
Minor--Medouze (Jose's spiritual mentor), Leopold (the mulatto boy), Carmen,
the two teachers (Mr. Roc and ?), Miss Flora (the ticket girl), Ti Coco,
Twelve-Toe, Mme Fusil, Madame Saint Louis
Story of Growth in a Colonial Context:
The boy's background: Black Shack Alley
the workers -- their
songs; their ways of rebellion; Ti CoCo's wage;
the children -- the
broken bowl episode (no sugar?), the rum-drinking episode; the school kids
the overseers -- e.g. Whitley
What role does the schools, as
well as the teachers, play in Jose's education? Besides the
teachers, who serves also as Jose's teachers?
The theme of education --
Who else is learning in the film? Is it all proper learning?
Grandmother and Jose
Grandmother's attitudes toward Jose's education
-- e.g. her response to Jose's wanting to work, her response to
Mme Leonce's explotation of Jose; her view of Port-de-France?
Why does she go back to Black Shack Alley if the
place is a "toad-hole" for her?
Jose's attitude toward her and her attitude toward
The closing scene
Other Influences on Jose: Different Characters' cultural identity: Black
Skin, White Mask
Moudouze and his stories about
slavery and about life;
Leopold and his white father (Mr. de Thoral)
Carmen and his white lady
the ticketbooth woman (Ms. Flora)
Race Relations and
the history of slavery--
How are the laborers exploited and how do resist
How is Leopold positioned in relation to both the
black and the white?
Please read Caribbean
Cinema and "Black Shack Alley" and consider the filmic techniques
of the film.
Novel about race relations in the plantations: Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys
Novel about growing up in the Caribbean/colonial contexts: Crick Crack,
Monkey by Merle Hodge; Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
The setting is Martinique in the early 1930s. Young Jose and his grandmother
live in a small village. The children's games are set in contrast
with the adults' hardwork, whose wages are very little. While the
other adults ask their kids to work in the sugar cane field too, Jose's
grandmother insists on his receiving education. Her efforts include:
keeping newspapers for him to read, sending him to school, and moving to
Fort-de-France to make Jose's studies easier while she works even harder
as a laundrywoman.
What Jose learns is not just knowledge from school. Her learns
from M. Moudouz about the history of slavery, from his friend, Leopold(the
bastard son of the Creole plantation owner), about racial inequality.
Also, he learns to assert himself in and out of school when the adults
(including the teachers) misunderstand him or mistreats him.
Jose also witnesses different people's different cultural identities.
introduction is excerpted from
Cross-Cultural Film Guide/ Patricia Aufderheide
Film Guide Introduction and Overview
The American University/ ©1992 ; boldface
& pictures added by Kate Liu
|Style: The film has high production values,
despite a less-than-a-million-dollar budget, and is executed with deceptive
grace and simplicity. It comfortably uses the conventions of psychological
realism in which traditional international fiction features are made.
The acting by child non-actors is of particular note, an achievement
not only of the children but of Palcy's directing. The film maintains close
focus on the psychological experience of the boy hero, but packs the
screen and the scenes with illuminating and contextualizing material.
It carries a message without reducing the story to the message.
Background on director/film: Palcy, who
is black, began work in the French National Radio and Television station
FR3 in Martinique, and made three films working with children before this.
She won a grant for a third of the production funds from a French government
grant for young directors. She wrote the script, drawing it from a well-known
Martinican novel by Joseph Zobel, of the same title. Martinican
officials including the noted poet of negritude Aime Cesaire, the mayor
of Fort-de-France, backed the production as well. (Cesaire's friendship
with Seck had much to do with his agreeing to play the role.) The film
was made in French, not the Martinican creole, in part to satisfy
the grant requirements; however the film was not, as is traditional with
such grants, first shown in France. It premiered in Martinique, where it
broke all box office records for any film ever shown there, and as a result
of a post-card campaign from Martinique to France also became a hit in
Because the film was controversial and because the white Creole elite
continues strong in Martinique (which continues to be an overseas province
of France), Palcy had wondered if there might be local criticism. However,
she told Pat Aufderheide when it came out, in an interview in Chicago,
there was no elite outrage. "Partly it's because they have less power
than they once did, because French overseas investment now has more control
over the economy. And partly it's because they were relieved to see the
final result. They had been afraid that the film would be much harsher
in its portrayal of whites, in fact a racist film. I however had never
wanted to make a racist film. I wanted to make a film that could touch
people, awaken their consciences to a sense of change--a revolt in a positive
sense--and move hem to struggle peacefully for a better life, to come to
see themselves as people with dignity." . . .
Film production context: Film production throughout the Antilles
is very much an individual and personal affair. Small and impoverished
populations create no adequate mass base to finance commercial production.
French government grants both to its overseas provinces and its ex-colonies
(not just in the Antilles but in Africa) have been critical in spurring
The film swept the French Cesars (like the Oscars), and won two awards,
including the Silver Lion, at the Venice Film Festival. It was a smash
hit at home, and well-received in France. It had a successful commercial
release in the U.S., with Orion, and continues its life on commercial video
shelves. One of the reasons for its international success is its winsome
hero and the story that can be interpreted as a boy pulling himself up
by his bootstraps. However, that reading is belied by a more careful look
at the central dilemma of the film: that colonial education provides
no way for someone from the lower rungs of the society to honor their own
and their culture's experience of struggle. The enduring success of
the film is its ability to allow the viewer to enter into the boy's central
problem without becoming didactic