Going Beyond the Stereotypes
According to Graaeme Turner, ? Audiences make films mean; they don?t merely recognize the meanings already secreted in them,? (Turner 144). Turner?s idea states that several meanings of a film can be adopted depending on how the audience perceives what they have seen. Euzhan Palcy?s, Sugar Cane Alley, is a film that is an oppositional reading because it shows a black community that is hard working, resourceful, and family oriented. This reading veers away from the common stereotypes that a preferred reading would show because it stays clear of the, ? meanings produced by dominant ideological systems,? (Turner 145). Meaning that it shows a black community that does not feature people who are unemployed, deviant, uneducated, and lacking family values.
The people who live in Sugar Cane Alley are extremely hard working. The film depicts them as waking up everyday and working in the fields sorting sugar cane. It seems that each community member is intensely driven while they are working because they are all trying to keep their community going. One scene that truly shows the working spirit of the town occurs after the children have accidentally burned Twelve Toes? house down. Here, Jose is ridiculed for not working because he is literally the only one not sorting the cane. This shows that each member of the community is expected to do their fair share of work. Although the laborers are often dehumanized and not paid their fair share, they continue to work hard so that they can support their families and the community. The view of the community in the above example is oppositional because it stay?s away from the stereotype that black communities are characterized by lazy unemployed citizens.
Another way that the film represents an oppositional reading is its portrayal of how the people are resourceful. The resourcefulness of the town is shown by each persons caring spirit and respect for the land. The respect for the land is evident because the people value everything that the earth has to offer. One example occurs when the children find a hens egg and look at it in awe, truly appreciating everything about it. The respect is further illustrated when each child shares what ever type of food they can get their hands on. Likewise, the caring nature of the town is shown when Medouze is missing and everyone pitches in to help. Within seconds the entire town is searching for a lossed friend. By combining resources the town was able to unite in order to care for everyone.
The family values that the community has established are its strongest attribute. The environment that everyone lives in is supportive, caring, and understanding. Likewise, the towns elder members are willing to teach younger people the importance of their culture and identity. These qualities are abundant in several forms throughout the film. For example, Medouze teaches Jose about where his ancestors came from and about the oppression that their people have suffered. He also tells him that the blacks that work in the community are still prisoners of a white society, ? Laws forbid the white man from beating us, but they don?t force them to pay a decent wage.? This quote represents the feeling of entrapment that Medouze feels in the community. The important lesson that he has taught Jose is that he must continue to improve himself, both spiritually and educationally. If he does, he will be free of the pain that Medouze has endured, ? withering away in the cane fields.? This example represents the bond that the community has together. By teaching the younger folks about their identity the community has helped to form a deep bond amongst its members. Another example of family values that is seen during the film, is the mutual respect between Jose and his grand mother. She will stop at nothing to see him receive an education. This is shown when she irons and launders so many clothes in Fort de France. The respect is given back to her when Jose earns a full scholarship and tells her that she never has to do such jobs again. These examples clearly represent an oppositional reading because they don?t indicate any of the common stereotypes that are often associated with poverty stricken communities.
By going against the preferred readings that many films offer, Sugar Cane Alley, has helped to open many eyes. The portrayal of Jos?’s grandmother as a key ingredient to his success and as a hard working, smart women, has gone against the typical portrayal of black women in film. In ? Black Feminist Thought, Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment,? Patricia Hill talks about how gender oppression in film has continued to produce negative stereotypes that greatly effect the advancement of black women. According to Hill, ? Challenging these controlling images has been a core theme of black feminist thought? (Hill-67). Euzhan Palcy most likely had the same type of feelings when she created Jose?s grandmother because she stands out as one of the strongest citizens of the community. Once again favoring the notion that the film is an oppositional reading.
Sugar Cane Alley, is a film that challenges many stereotypes that are found in other movies by showing a black community that has hard working, resourceful, and family oriented members. Despite severe oppression, racism, and dehumanization by the white community, the people of Sugar Cane Alley continued to give each other strength and hope. The view of a struggling community with a strong will to survive is not a film that would fit into societal norms, therefore it is viewed as an oppositional reading according to Turner?s discussion (Turner-145). Further more, Palcy?s depiction of women has worked against the grain of the typical preferred readings that black women are commonly associated with in film today.