Jose (Garry Cadenat)

The film begins on 1930’s Martinique (an island in the Caribbean) in what they call a Black Shack Alley. It’s here that blacks who had fought to free themselves from slavery to the French are now kept in virtual slavery by economic means. Sort of like sharecroppers in the United States. We follow a boy named Jose who lives with a woman he calls Ma Tine, but his real mother is dead. He lives in an area where everyone works in the cane fields and is underpaid by Whitey, as they call them.

It’s here that Jose begins a dual education. One is in French and part of the normal academic system that rarely sees a boy from the fields. The second one is from an older man who talks to Jose about where blacks originally came from, how they were brought to Martinique, how they revolted, and ultimately went back to the fields. With these two forms of education and a relentless Ma Tine, Jose lifts himself up from Black Shack Alley, but never forgets it.

The plot has been done many times before, but it still works here because of a cast that never hits a false note. However, what makes this film so good is how it perfectly captures this time and place in character and in appearance.

Black Shack Alley

Getting A Lesson

A White Frenchman On His Deathbed Who Refuses To Recognize His Mixed Race Son

What I will remember most is when Jose says, “I’m sure no white ever yelled ‘I hate my race'” to a woman who is so ashamed of being black that she says her skin may be black, but her character is white. I highly recommend this film.