|Director(s)||Marc & Nick Francis|
|Date released (year)||2006|
|Production company||Speak-It Films and Fulcrum Productions.|
|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).’
|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).’
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)