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The theme of slavery and oppression of the black people in the early twentieth century seems to be a vulnerable thing to discuss. Talking about African abuse, one should mention that not only African Americans throughout the American south ran the danger of almost slave labor but also numerous people from former European colonies. In the movie Sugar Cane Alley, which was filmed in the early eightieth by Euzhan Palcy, one can meet that phenomenon. Film critic Vincent Canby described the movie in the following way: “It’s neither mock-primitive nor sophisticated, but a style thoroughly at the service of its narrative, which is a deceptively gentle – almost polite – tale about growing up black, poor, proud and fiercely ambitious on the French West Indian” (Canby). This is an accurate remark for the idea of the film.
The place of the action of the film is Martinique, small village on the West Indian island, former French colony. People here leave measured and poor, but in some way, they are quite happy. The protagonist of the film is 13 year-old boy named Jose. People who work on the sugar cane plantations are desperately poor. Unlike American South, in Martinique, the majority of the population was black, since their ancestries were brought here to work for the white people.
The main character, Jose, is very talented and intelligent child
He is good at school; he is kind with his friends and he possesses a wide-open to the whole world heart. From the first sight, he is just an ordinary kid, but in the course of the film, one should mention his adultness as compared with other children. His dreams are different too: high school education is something that is hard but still possible to achieve. He decides to accept a challenge of his fate and do all in his powers to study in a big city. This might be the challenge not only for him but also for his grandmother – the first importance person of his soaked in sugar cane and sun life.
One should also mention important characters who built the strong nature of Jose: Jose’s grandmother M’Man Tine and old man Medouze.
One is not aware of the circumstances of Jose’s orphanage but one certainly can affirm: he is surrounded with love and care of his grandmother. She appears to be hardworking and upright woman who shows enough strictness raising her grandchild but also inculcates him confidence and dignity. In contrast to other children, Jose is not allowed to work on sugar cane plantation when there is a lack of the labor force. The explanation is simple: he must not work for penny; otherwise, it will destroy his belief in himself and will debase him. Moreover, the old woman, regardless of her bad state of health, decides to follow her grandchild to a big city to help him financially, working as a maid in the white peoples’ homes. This means really self-sacrifice that is made for one’s best.
Another figure that impresses Jose and affects his choices and worldview in general is an old man called Medouze who looks rather like a shaman from beyond. He is a storyteller, but all his stories are based on his own life: he still remembers times of slavery, and every day in Martinique, he misses their homeland, Africa. Jose listens to his stories holding his breath, makes conclusions, and little by little, builds his inner life that consists of a strong mix of tradition bias, self-esteem, and equity feeling. Difference is evident in age but not in their minds.
Going over from characters to attitude towards black people, one should point out some important observations. As already mentioned, in spite of numerical superiority of blacks, the power of control entirely belonged to white planters. As one may notice during the film, the great majority of blacks is not satisfied with the work that they have and money which they receive for this work. However, no one dares to say a word. The only relief that they have is dancing around the fire late at nights, which somehow reminds them of their past, to most of blacks in Martinique familiar only through hearsay.
As for a big city where Jose attends his high school, it differs much from Jose’s village
There are no more same-classed dwellers: people in his school, for example, are from higher classes. Jose’s schoolteacher embodies everything that could be associated with racial discrimination: unjust attitude towards the boy, contempt, distrust. He accuses Jose in sharp practice while writing his first work. The teacher is certain about Jose’s mental faculties as of a poor and black child, and he was quite sure that the boy would never combine some right and adult thought on his own. In Fort-de-France, there exists also such a thing as interracial marriage, with which Jose was previous unfamiliar. There is no need to go far for an example but to look at his friend Leonard. Leo is a son of a black skinned woman that establishes a reputation of presumptuous and high-strung mother. She oppresses her child for playing with black children. Leonard’s father, who owns a plantation, is rich but unfortunately not enough well-wishing, since he refuses at his death’s door to leave his inheritance to the only son due his skin color. ”It’s not a mulatto’s name, it’s a white man’s name” said the father. This action for the last time indicates how far the level of racial prejudice can go, when even own flash and blood are regarded as something alien and repulsive.
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Janet Maslin wrote about it: “Without overemphasizing this or anything else in her film, Miss Palcy captures the simplicity and spirituality of Jose’s elders, the indifference of their white masters and a sense of what will be gained and lost by all of them in their progress toward the future” (Maslin). However, the movie itself brings positive impressions, although the state of affairs with human relations in the film is far from satisfactory. It inspires first at all, and it also encourages to keep thinking and hoping that against all the odds, poverty, skin color, or worldview will not occur as a hindrance to attain the better live for a person who is raised in love and kindness and possesses such qualities as esteem for others, loyalty, and natural intelligence. After all, Jose attains his object and receives full scholarship.