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Black Gold

 

Title Black Gold
Director(s) Marc & Nick Francis
Date released (year) 2006
Production company Speak-It   Films and Fulcrum Productions.
Length 78 minutes
Location Ethiopia
Keywords/tags Food, trade, neoliberalism, poverty
Link to film  

Synopsis From Tesfaye, B. &   Potter, J. (2011) Black gold: wake up and smell the coffee. followthethings.com   (www.followthethings.com/blackgold.shtml last accessed 6/4/13):

‘As westerners revel in   designer lattes and cappuccinos, impoverished Ethiopian coffee growers suffer   the bitter taste of injustice. In this eye-opening expose of the   multi-billion dollar industry, Black Gold traces one man’s fight for a fair   price (Source: Anon nda link).

The film follows Tadesse   Meskela, an Ethiopian man on a mission to save his 74,000 struggling coffee   farmers from bankruptcy. As his farmers strive to harvest some of the highest   quality coffee beans on the international market, Tadesse travels the world   in an attempt to find buyers willing to pay a fair price. Against the   backdrop of Tadesse’s journey to London and Seattle, the enormous power of   the multinational players that dominate the world’s coffee trade becomes   apparent. New York commodity traders, the international coffee exchanges, and   the double dealings of trade ministers at the World Trade Organisation reveal   the many challenges Tadesse faces in his quest for a long term solution for   his farmers (Source: Anon 2010).

Scenes in the film switch   between the disadvantaged coffee farming communities to the daily lives of   those at the luxury to consume it, which often exemplifies the absurdity   found in those gushing about the great wealth of a market built off the backs   of farmers who continue to live in poverty (Source: Reed 2008).

The spokesman, Tadesse   Meskela, who is the subject of Black Gold, together with the film’s English   makers, brothers Nick and Marc Francis, are a serious irritant to some of the   world’s coffee giants – in particular Seattle-based Starbucks, whose annual   turnover of $7.8bn (£4bn) is not much lower than Ethiopia’s entire gross   domestic product… ‘Our people are barefoot, have no school, no clean water or   health centre. They are living hand to mouth. We need $4 a pound minimum,   that’s only fair…Starbucks may help bring clear water for one community but   this does not solve the problem. In 2005, Starbucks’ aid to the third world   was $1.5m. We don’t want this kind of support, we just want a better price.   They make huge profits; giving us just one payment of money does not help,’   said Mr. Meskela (Source: Seager 2007 link).

By way of the farmers in the   cooperative and Tadesse’s efforts on their behalf, the film exposes the web   of trade regulations that keep farmers in developing countries poor, even   while transnational corporations in the global north prosper. Women   painstakingly sort millions of beans; and viewers observe the hunger and   substandard housing that accompany poverty. Juxtaposed with these images are   the cosmopolitan cafés of Europe and America, the comfort of conspicuous   consumption, the places of commerce where deprivation in one part of the   globe is turned into the wealth of another (Source: Fellner 2008 link).’

Source: http://www.followthethings.com/blackgold.shtml

Reviews/discussion From Tesfaye, B. &   Potter, J. (2011) Black gold: wake up and smell the coffee. followthethings.com   (www.followthethings.com/blackgold.shtml last accessed 6/4/13):

‘When Marc and Nick Francis   were making Black Gold, they never expected the story – about the plight of   African coffee farmers paid a fraction of the amount a latte or cappuccino   costs – to attract the very multinationals the film criticises. ‘They want to   hear what the audience thinks,’ Nick Francis says. ‘We had this screening in   Seattle, and the head of corporate responsibility of Starbucks came to the   screening and participated in a panel and answered questions from the   audience. That’s what you call the power of film – how a film could draw in   people.’ … The film has prompted rounds of crisis management sessions at   coffee-shop chains such as Starbucks, which issued a statement calling the   film inaccurate and incomplete. Since the film’s release, the chain has also   actively promoted a new range of ‘Fair Trade’ coffee in its outlets around   the world, including those in Hong Kong. The filmmakers are surprised by the   chain’s response to their film. ‘It’s not a film about Starbucks, it’s a film   about coffee farmers struggling to survive in the coffee industry, and their   story is set against the backdrop of the coffee-consuming world of the west,   of which Starbucks is a part,’ Marc Francis says. ‘We didn’t tell it so much   about them but they’ve taken it very personally. Also, we did spend six   months trying to interview not just Starbucks but other big multinational   coffee companies to bring their side of the stories to the film. But they’ve   given us no response. Now that the film is out there and is beginning to pick   up public momentum, the companies are responding more and more to the film –   or trying to show [through] public relations where they position themselves’   (Source: Tsui 2007a).

’Black Gold’ portrays the   coffee industry as a whole, rather than Starbucks specifically. From our   point of view, this film is inaccurate and incomplete, as it does not explain   how Starbucks purchases coffee, nor does it provide any reference to   potential solutions to the world coffee crisis… Starbucks takes an integrated   approach to coffee purchasing. Our goal is to pay premium prices that provide   the coffee farmer with a profit. In our financial year 2006, we paid an   average price of $1.42 per pound for our coffee, 40% above the commodity   price and comparable with the guaranteed Fairtrade price of $1.26. Our   approach… [has] been recognised for…leadership within the industry (Source:   Starbucks 2007).

We are surprised that   Starbucks have gone out to discredit the film again. This is not a film   specifically about Starbucks, it’s a film about the winners and losers in the   global coffee industry and it shows the daily reality for millions of coffee   farmers. We spent six months during the production trying to persuade   Starbucks to participate in the film to give them the opportunity to explain   how they buy their coffee and how they work in Ethiopia, but they declined   our invitation. In a subsequent meeting with five senior Starbucks executives   at their Seattle headquarters, we asked them to tell us the exact price they   pay farmers for a pound of coffee – but they refused to disclose this   (Source: Francis & Francis 2007 link).

During the film’s most   painful sequence, his [Tadesse’s] efforts and Ethiopia’s persistent, crushing   famine are juxtaposed with the vapidly cheerful corp-speak of two Starbucks   baristas (Source: Hornaday 2006).

Yes, the baristas are   excessively perky as they purvey coffee and the Starbucks experience; yet   they are also model employees, supportive of each other, efficient, and proud   of their company. At the time of the filming, the young women were   entertaining a tour from the Specialty Coffee Association, to which the   filmmakers had attached themselves to avoid asking Starbucks or its employees   for permission to film. How could these young women know that they would be   featured as unwitting symbols of the harm that transnational coffee giants   inflict on poor Ethiopian farmers? (Source: Fellner 2008 link).

The Francis brothers are   good on showing the situation’s local effects – famine, ill-equipped schools   – but less so at analyzing the international economic context: the film is   frighteningly free of expert voices. More dynamism and knowledge in the   telling and fewer cheap shots at young Starbucks workers in Seattle wouldn’t   have gone amiss (Source: Calhoun 2007, np).

The baristas and shopkeepers   that the film ridicules through artful editing are the very people who are   the farmers’ best hope for teaching the public about the true value of these   coffees (Source: Marshall 2006 link).

While it may prompt some to   think again next time they’re in Starbucks, this astute insight into the   coffee business is better at lauding the good guys than taking the   multinationals to task for the iniquities of the global economy (Source:   Parkinson 2006 link).

Although some scenes   register with strong impact, there also seems to be a lot of padding, and the   overall narrative is ultimately too diffused and unfocused for the film to   have the sociological impact it so obviously desires (Source: Scheck 2006).

Compared to a documentary   like Darwin’s Nightmare, which found disturbing visual analogues for the   moral rot of global trade, Black Gold makes most of its points in words, not   pictures. (Source: Murray 2006 link)

The movie’s approach reminds   me that of the paternalistic and Western-centred [sic] 1970s-style theories   according to which only colonialism and international market (i.e. ‘us’ the   Western world) are to blame, and no others’ power and responsibilities are   recognised. Likewise, there is no mention in the movie of the roles that the   Ethiopian State could play in economic development and, for instance,   education (Source: Chiari 2007 link).

[I] found it confusing to   people outside the coffee field, partial, and intellectually not particularly   honest…In my opinion, the film completely overlooks factors such as   historical events (the Mengistu dictatorship which ruined plantations and the   coffee free flow), inept procedures such as the bureaucracy surrounding the   auctions system which hardly allows enough time for buyers to evaluate the   lots), and also the ever present corruption, probably less in Ethiopia than   in other parts of Africa, but then why generalize in the end with statements   about Africa’s share of world trade? (Source: cofyknsult 2006 link).’

Further Reading

Anon (nda) The DVD.   blackgoldmovie.com (www.blackgoldmovie.com/dvd.php   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Anon (ndb) Black Gold: wake   up and smell the coffee. maketradefair.com (www.maketradefair.com/en/index.php?file=blackgoldmovie_main.html&cat=5&subcat=1&select=1   last accessed j March 2011)

Anon (ndc) Black Gold:   sowing the seeds for change. maketradefair.com (www.maketradefair.com/en/index.php?file=blackgoldmovie_main.html&cat=5&subcat=1&select=1   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Anon (2007) Ethiopia: smell   the exploitation. Africa News 25 December

Anon (2008a) Trademarking:   grown in Ethiopia. Marketing Week April 24, p.16

Anon (2008b) Ethiopia: Black   Gold premiere.   Africa News 24 March

Anon (2010) Mayor will take   to stage at screening to receive town’s award. Todmorden News (UK) 4   March

Calhoun, D. (2007) Black   Gold: movie review. Time Out New York 6 June (www.timeout.com/film/newyork/reviews/83812/Black_Gold.html   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Chiari, G.P. (2007) Black   Gold forums: about the movie’s paternalistic approach. blackgoldmovie.com   8 December (http://blackgoldmovie.com/forum/index.php?action=vthread&forum=1&topic=279   last accessed 7 March 2011)

cofyknsult (2006) Black Gold   forums: the film completely overlooks key factors. blackgoldmovie.com   24 October (http://blackgoldmovie.com/forum/index.php?action=vthread&forum=1&topic=65   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Cycon, D. (2007) Javatrekker:   dispatches from the world of fair trade coffee. White River   Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing

Doane, M. (2010)   Relationship coffees. Structure and agency in the fair trade system. in Lyon,   S. and Moberg, M. (eds) Fair trade and social justice: global ethnographies. New   York: New York University Press

Fellner, K. (2008) Starbucks   vs Ethiopia.   Foreign Policy in Focus 15 September (www.fpif.org/articles/starbucks_v_ethiopia   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Francis, M. & Francis,   N. (nda) Black Gold: filmmaker Q&A. PBS Independent Lens (www.pbs.org/independentlens/blackgold/qa.html   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Francis, M. & Francis,   N. (ndb) Directors’ statement. blackgoldmovie.com (www.blackgoldmovie.com/directors.php   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Francis, M. & Francis,   N. (2006) Black Gold – Fair Trade, Sundance, and Starbucks’ ‘Charm Offensive’   in Park City.   Huffington Post 2 February (www.huffingtonpost.com/marc-and-nick-francis/black-gold-fair-trade-sun_b_15036.html   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Francis, M. & Francis,   N. (2007) Starbucks issue press statement about Black Gold: filmmakers   respond. blackgoldmovie.com   16 January (www.blackgoldmovie.com/blog.php/?p=43   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Hornaday, A. (2006) A spike   in supply chain muckraking: films explore economy’s social costs. Washington   Post 10 December

Marshall (2006) Black Gold   forums: guilt & ridicule. blackgoldmovie.com 25 November (http://blackgoldmovie.com/forum/index.php?action=vthread&forum=1&topic=85   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Murray, N. (2006) Review of   Black Gold. The   Onion A.V. Club 5 October (www.avclub.com/articles/black-gold,3766/   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Parkinson, D. (2007) Review   of Black Gold. Empire (www.empireonline.com/reviews/ReviewComplete.asp?FID=135039   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Reed, N. (2008) Wal-mart   executives discuss future of ‘Black Gold’ at U. Arkansas. University Wire   (USA) 7 April

Scheck, F. (2006) Review of   Black Gold. Hollywood   Reporter 11 October

Seager, A (2007) Starbucks   stirred by fair trade film. The Guardian (UK) 29 January (www.guardian.co.uk/business/2007/jan/29/development.filmnews   last accessed 7 March 2011)

Starbucks (2007) Starbucks   statement on Black Gold film. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre [download]

Tsui, C. (2007a) Film raises   hackles in the coffee shops of power. South China Morning Post 3 April, p.4

Tsui, C. (2007b) Using the   plot.   South China Morning Post 26 March, p.5

Source: From Tesfaye, B.   & Potter, J. (2011) Black gold: wake up and smell the coffee. followthethings.com   (www.followthethings.com/blackgold.shtml last accessed 6/4/13)

Links to other resources Oromia Coffee Union: Farmers cooperative union website (www.oromiacoffeeunion.org/ under   construction 12 March 2011)

New Internationalist shop: Oromia Coffee Union products (www.newint.com.au/mobile/shop/oromia-coffee-union-p68.htm   last accessed 12 March 2011)

‘Black Gold’   pages on Oxfam’s ‘Make trade fair’ campaign website (www.maketradefair.com/en/index.php?file=blackgoldmovie_main.html&cat=5&subcat=1&select=1   last accessed 12 March 2011)

‘Black Gold’   Movie website (www.blackgoldmovie.com/ last   accessed 12 March 2011)

‘Black Gold’   YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/blackgoldmoviedotcom   last accessed 12 March 2011)

‘Black Gold’   pages on US PBS TV ‘Independent lens’ series website (www.pbs.org/independentlens/blackgold/index.html   last accessed 12 March 2011)

Starbucks’   ‘Corporate social responsibility’ webpage (http://gr.starbucks.com/en-US/_Social+Responsibility/   last accessed 12 March 2011)

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