That $4 latte purchase of yours often yields little or almost nothing to the African bean harvesters who made it possible—sorry to harsh your buzz. No mere Western-guilt-inducing harangue, this highly informative documentary by British brothers Marc and Nick Francis is a model of patient storytelling. Its calmly accumulated details of the cruelly exploitative global coffee trade pay off in sequences that juxtapose clueless U.S. caffeine peddlers and consumers with, for example, images of southern Ethiopian coffee farm kids seeking scarce hospital care for their malnutrition. The doc’s measured hope comes in the form of globe-trotting union rep Tadesse Meskela, whose Oromo Coffee Farmers Co-op works directly with fair-trade advocates who buy high-quality beans for something closer to what they’re actually worth. Still, the filmmakers’ inclusion of WTO “talks” that take place behind closed doors hardly minimizes the power of multinational java corporations or lets the latte lover off the hook. No room for cream in Black Gold, but it does work as a wakeup call.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 26, 2006