Film Review: Nothing Like Chocolate
Chocolate features among the few things in life that bring universal happiness. In its various forms, shapes, and presentations, chocolate is meant to bring pleasure. In fact, some studies indicate that chocolate consumption leads to the same pleasurable rewards in the human brain as sexual pleasures (Parker et al. 150). It is, thus, unexpected that the film Nothing Like Chocolate, directed by Kum-Kum Bhavnani, documents a journey of opposite ends from cocoa plantations where slavery and child labor are rampant to the factories and commercial centers where the end user has virtually no idea relating to how and where chocolate is sourced. The film looks at the way an immigrant from the United States, Mott Green, uses ethical and sustainable methods to process chocolate from bean to bar. Through an interaction with local organic farmers and by first fully understanding his role in the community, Mott Green shows the contrast between how larger commercial entities manufacture chocolate and how it is supposed to be in a way that the community is left better off than it was before. In Grenada, organic farming and paid labor are highlighted as key features of the film, indicating a diversion from the norm in Ivory Coast in West Africa where chemical farming and slave/child labor are used to produce cocoa. Bhavnani dwells a lot on the life, trials and triumphs of Mott Green, humanizing his actions and intentions in a way that depicts him as a protagonist, one that is not only inspiring but relatable to the audience. In a very informative and an interactive narrative style, Nothing Like Chocolate reveals how ethics are an important element of any society showing the evils and concerns that can be countered by being ethical practices.
Nothing Like Chocolate is a story of ethics, not just in the way chocolate is made but also in the little details from farming practices, regulations, labor, compensation, and the love that goes into every step. Mott Green, as the protagonists, subtly provides that no chocolate tastes better than that which is ethically manufactured, using organic methods, fair practices in labor compensation, and ensuring that everybody benefits right from the plantation owner to the end user. Ethics seems to be the hidden theme, the central idea behind Bhavnani’s documentary. Ethics highlight the plight of workers who get meagre earnings from the government in Grenada, tells of the horrifying story of kids and young men trafficked in West Africa to work in cocoa plantations, sheds light on the dangers of the trade when unregulated, and help the audience to understand just how their favorite indulgence can be as dangerous as crime-related products like cocaine. Ethically made chocolate is in competition with larger producers who are willing to cut corners, including using slave labor and unfair trade practices to cut on the costs of production. The introduction of cacao farmers and the locals of Grenada and their humble attitudes towards life adds on to the issue of ethics. Their struggles to make ends meet via selling their cacao to the government versus choosing to join Mott Green’s initiative shows the benefits of ethics. The greed of the commercial chocolate market is exposed through a highlight of Mott Green’s shareholder owned cooperative and the measures he takes to ensure that every stakeholder benefits from the crop and the finished product. Overall, in a story about people and chocolate, ethics plays a vital role in showing the audience how the industry can be changed to reflect the needs and issue of every stakeholder, including better regulation and a structure that provides benefits and incentives to everyone involved.
The opening scene is very important in highlighting what Bhavnani’s Nothing Like Chocolate is all about, starting with an introduction of how chocolate is made and the main issue of ethics and illegality in using child labor (00:01-00:30). The scene then introduces a chocolate “revolution” complete with a Caribbean-themed reggae tune that sings about a revolution (00:30-01:20). Then, Mott Green is introduced and thereafter follows a series of individual presentations about chocolate and their interpretation of what it is to them and others. A key feature of the film is how it often “breaks” from a first person narration in real-life to incorporate the third person narration that makes it a documentary. This is an important feature because Bhavnani uses the narration to introduce or emphasize facts about an issue. For example, minute 10:00 – 11:20 uses borrowed footage to emphasize on issues child labor and slavery in the cocoa plantations. In 11:30 – 12:18, the same strategy is applied to give the audience a glimpse of the injustices that inspired Mott Green to setup a company that follows ethical production practices from beans to bars. Importantly, the use of a narrator not only helps to break monotony but also provides important issues that are left out in the individual stories of different characters in the film. For instance, Mott Green’s tour of the office and the pressures that he faces in ensuring that his sales match the supply brought by local farmers shows the problems that ethical producers go through when competing with larger corporate entities that do not necessarily observe the same guidelines. Bhavnani provides an explanation based on verifiable facts to glorify Mott Green’s efforts and portray him as the much-needed change in the chocolate industry.
In almost every scene, Bhavnani uses an open-ended question structure to drive a point home, one that is left to the interpretation of the audience. I find this strategy very useful in allowing interaction with the audience. In 15:45, the CEO and Owner of Guittard Chocolate is asked about ethicality and the issue of slavery in the process of sourcing the cacao beans from West Africa. His response highlights why Bhavnani uses the open-ended question technique because Gary Guittard responds succinctly to reveal that nothing can be done about the situation in Ivory Coast regarding slavery and child labor. A white space then follows as the film allows the audience to digest the response including an assertion that some customers specifically want the quality from Ivory Coast and therefore “justifying” the company’s continued engagement with the raw materials from the region. The response forms a huge part of the film as it goes on to show how the big corporates continue to ignore issues relating to ethics and illegal practices, with fake commitments to quality and fair practices. The explanation provided by Gary Guittard allows the audience to fully grasp what is going on in the world of chocolate production. Therefore, the open-ended question style employed, followed by a brief narration that gives or emphasizes facts, is important in enabling one to draw conclusions and to fully participate in the film.
The narrative and open ended techniques are a major strength of the film, yet I felt that it fails significantly to get the audience fully immersed in the controversies and ethical issues at hand by using the same calm tone throughout the film. Even in an instance where the voice over should display rage over assertions, such as those made by Gary Guittard in 16:20 – 16:43, the film returns the audience to a calm state, which unfortunately takes away from the pain of the previous scene. The management of the atmosphere is a huge failure in my opinion. It takes away the emotions from an otherwise perfect documentary that tells the story of chocolate. It fails to factor in the progression of the film, whether through discussing the plight of Grenadian farmers or when highlighting the problem of slavery in a very lucrative industry. I think the film should be rearranged in a way that shows the chocolate production process getting darker as the film progresses, ironically in line with how chocolate gets darker and finer as it is refined from beans to bars.
In summary, the failure to get the audience fully participative through a continuous form of narration and the lack of timely voiceovers does not reduce the impact of the film. It clearly presents how ethical issues are largely neglected in the chocolate industry. Ethics is a central theme all through the documentary. The societal concerns of the Grenadian community and those of West African nations dealing with cocoa augment the argument that ethics from a business perspective dictates the culture of a society. From the documentary, even with the benefits of chocolate on being a great life pleasure, a perfect food, and a fuel to lift spirits, we see the issues that have plagued the international chocolate industry. Concerns including unsustainable farming practices, slave labor, child labor, and child trafficking are on the rise even with commitments from various stakeholders to address these issues. The film successfully brings these issues to light. The main strengths are that it is possible for the viewer to immediately identify the evils that chocolate brings to any given community, especially to those with cacao plantations. Another notable strength is that the film applies an open-ended question structure to let the interviewee present his or her own perspective on an issue. The result is that the viewers are able to make their own inferences regarding key issues in the film. Overall, the film is very well presented. It could benefit from a rearrangement of the suggested scenes in order to have fluency of emotions for the reader to be fully immersed in the issues affecting the people. That said, Bhavnani’s Nothing Like Chocolate successfully shares on ethical issues that should be addressed to ensure the welfare of stakeholders.
Nothing Like Chocolate. DVD. Directed by Kum-Kym Bhavnani. Reading: Bullfrog Films,
Parker, Gordon, Isabella Parker, and Heather Brotchie. “Mood state effects of
chocolate.” Journal of affective disorders 92.2-3 (2006): 149-159.