If you expected that Amy Serrano’s film, “The Sugar Babies: The Plight of the Children of Agricultural Workers in the Sugar Industry of the Dominican Republic” would be exhibited at the upcoming Miami International Film Festival, you would be wrong.
The question: why did the Miami Film Festival, scheduled to air the expose of brutal living and working conditions in the Dominican sugar fields, suddenly reverse itself?
Could it have to do with the ham-handed influence of Big Sugar?
In September 2007, Serrano’s film was accepted for exhibition in the upcoming Miami International Film Festival, scheduled from February 28 through March 9th.
Last week, Serrano received notice from the festival producer retracting the invitation. Serrano says that she had previously disclosed to the Festival that the film had been screened to a FIU audience limited to the social studies program—the ostensible reason for its retraction.
“Sugar Babies” and another film sharply critical of the sugar industry, narrated by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, have come under withering attack from sugar interests and its public relations machinery.
According to a February 7th AP report, “Leading the effort to counter the movies’ impact are the Fanjul and Vicini families, who own the first and second-largest Dominican sugar companies. The Cuban-American Fanjul family also owns vast sugar operations in Florida where Haitian workers on temporary US visas harvest cane.”
The Fanjuls are fabulously wealthy, by way of state and federal policies governing sugar farming on hundreds of thousands acres around Lake Okeechobee.
In the Dominican Republic, the family built Casa de Campo, a resort that caters to wealthy homeowners and visitors, including politically influential guests and elected officials that has been featured in national glamor magazines, like W-- the magazine of Women's Wear Daily.
“Until now, the disturbing remnants of colonial slavery were carefully hidden in paradise.... “The Sugar Babies” examines the moral price of sugar—present and past—from the perspective of the conditions surrounding the children of sugar cane cutters of Haitian ancestry in the Dominican Republic, and the continuing denial of their basic human rights.”
When in South Florida, Bill Clinton sometimes golfs with Alfie Fanjul, who was on the phone with the former president while Monica Lewinsky was in the Oval Office.
The AP report quotes the producer of the Newman-narrated film, “Their goal is to stop people in the world from seeing the movie, because it reveals conditions that views find deeply troubling.” And so it might be troubling, too, to the former president whose foundation and philanthropic activities are focused on relieving the ills of poverty.
I wonder if Hillary Clinton or any of the other presidential candidates would venture their opinion on “The Sugar Babies” if they had the chance: “While exposing those who profit from human trafficking and exploitation, the feature length documentary film vividly explores the lives of those who live in circumstances that can only be considered modern day slavery.”
If the Miami International Film Festival won’t be honest about its censorship, the Women’s Film Festival is.
According to a source, three days after receiving the retraction from the Festival, Serrano got a call from the Women’s Film Festival canceling the airing of the film there because it “would create controversy and endanger their funding.”
It sure sounds like censorship, doesn’t it? Well, not to worry: in Miami freedom is on the march, too, but just not when it comes to criticizing Big Sugar; a special interest that has had a major influence on national farm policies, environmental programs, and farm worker rights.
The Miami International Film Festival is substantially supported by the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
On its website, the Foundation claims, “We want to ensure that each community’s citizens get the information they need to thrive in a democracy.” The Foundation invests in numerous projects protecting journalists and defending media freedom.
It would seem that the Knight Foundation should reconsider its funding of the Miami International Film Festival, for its withdrawal of “Sugar Babies”. Such a withdrawal of funding would be consistent with the mission of the Foundation.