After dinner, we watched the documentary Black Gold. From the movie’s website:
“Tadesse Meskela is one 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.”
The film set a global course, from the New York Stock Exchange where international coffee prices are set, to the province of Oromia, Ethiopia, where poverty is pervasive, in part due to the terminally low selling price of coffee, to London where Meskela tries to acquire new purchasers for his collective’s coffee.
I’m not a documentary-junkie, but I did find that there was something missing in the film – it needed a harder edge. Format-wise, there were the expected juxtaposition tactics of extreme destitution against the wealth of developed nations. At the same time, some jump cuts were much too jarring, weakening the effectiveness with the time needed to adjust between locales.
The filmmakers did try to broaden the scope of the problem to include international scapegoats, mentioning an apparently pivotal end of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989, as well as a breakdown of WTO talks between the EU and developing nations in 2003, but overall, this section was much too general. I suppose part of the problem was that the film up to this point had followed Meskela, and without a developed figure present at the conferences, it was difficult to continue the narrative they had worked so hard to construct.
There was one panel of text summarizing how the multinationals (Kraft, Sara Lee, et al.) had turned down requests for interviews. I’m not saying that the filmmakers had to stalk industry representatives or stage a protest in front of company headquarters à la Michael Moore, but there had to be further elaboration. Yes, governments and trade organizations are at fault, but so are the corporations.
Near the end of the movie, the camera tracks Meskela as he searches the aisles of a London supermarket for coffee originating in Oromia. He does find a package, and expresses his hope that consumers on the ground level will begin to investigate the source of coffee, and work to advocate against the injustice faced by third world farmers. I think this point should have been communicated further as well, for example, by interviewing consumers about their awareness of the coffee trade as a whole. I was waiting for the explicit condemnation of those who silently comply with unjust treatment.
So, am I now a hypocrite if I continue to partake in coffee without asking the questions that need to be asked?