There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The next time viewers of Black Gold duck into a Starbucks, they might just skip that biscotti because they’ll feel too full of guilt. Marc Francis and Nick Francis’ debut film follows Tadesse Meskela, the general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Co-operative Union in Ethiopia, where the cup of joe was born. By all logic, Meskela should be a man of leisure: Considering the seemingly unstoppable growth of coffee chains in this country and around the world, you’d think the 74,000 farmers his union represents would be rich. In fact, however, the growers on average receive about a quarter per kilo of beans—a weight that equals over 200 dollars when calculated according to what the Westerners pay for their daily fix. Meskela’s tireless mission, therefore, is to turn around this 30-year low, the result of the 1989 collapse of the International Coffee Agreement. Black Gold is a variation on the theme explored in last year’s Darwin’s Nightmare, which horrifically revealed the plight of African countries that are resource-rich but cash-poor. In comparison, though, the Francises’ documentary feels thin. Meskela is shown calling attention to his cause internationally, at coffee conventions and even at a meeting of the World Trade Organization, where the powers that be continue to ignore Africa’s plea to be granted fair trade instead of first-world aid. There are discussions about the lack of quality education for Ethiopian children, as well as goofier scenes such as a barista competition to pad things out, but mostly the subtitles repeat the same mantra: Farmers are not being paid a just—or even living—wage for their efforts. And unlike the fishermen in Darwin’s Nightmare, who depend on scraps for their dinner, Black Gold’s growers are shown to have a more profitable option: switching their crops from one addictive substance to another, namely chat, a narcotic leaf that many of their downtrodden countrymen chew like bubblegum. That’s a trade that goes beyond unfair to just plain sad. —Tricia Olszewski