Title: Nothing Like Chocolate
Director: Kum-Kum Bhavnani
With the lead-up to Valentine’s Day comes the requisite flood of commercials for teddy bears and flowers, yes, but especially Whitman’s Samplers and other boxed chocolates. In fact, probably more chocolate is gifted today than on any other single day of the year. But how many happy recipients will necessarily spend much time thinking about where their chocolate came from, and whether it was produced in a fashion that ethically compensates the farmers who harvest the cacao beans used in that manufacturing? The humane and engaging new documentary “Nothing Like Chocolate,” fresh off a much buzzed-about Santa Barbara Film Festival presentation, shines a light on the gulf between first-world manufacturers and consumers of chocolate and the for the most part third-world growers and producers of said delights.
“Blood diamonds” (or “conflict diamonds,” if one prefers) is a phrase that has worked its way a bit into the popular vernacular, by way of explaining the unethical conditions in which so many diamonds of in particular Sierra Leone have historically been mined. But it’s a far less well known fact that 70 percent of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa’s Ivory Coast (4o percent of it from the same-named country), and much of its harvesting is dependent on child slave labor, who are sometimes trafficked from Mali and other neighboring countries. This basic information forms the underpinning of “Nothing Like Chocolate,” and yet the film isn’t some psychologically heavy screed.
Director Kum-Kum Bhavnani — a University of California Santa Barbara sociology professor who previously helmed “The Shape of Water,” narrated by Susan Sarandon — funnels much of her movie through the vision and experiences of Mott Green, one of the co-founders and the driving creative force behind Grenada Chocolate Company and Cooperative, a “bean-to-bar” artisanal company located on the tiny yet fertile island of Grenada, a nation of only 100,000 nestled between Florida and Venezuela. With a commitment to using organically grown cacao beans and compensating local farmers in an inclusive fashion that makes them part of the company, the personable and articulate Green slots comfortably as a new generation of activists who are letting their consciences determine and lead their business practices.
Bhavnani gives voice to other boutique chocolatiers who either cannot or won’t wade into this ethical pool (Gary Guittard provides an eloquent defense), and also illuminates the complicated process by which chocolates and other items achieve “Fair Trade” status. Still other interviewees, including former Grenada Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, speak intelligently about both Green (locals call him “Smilo,” the name under which Green’s company markets its chocolate powder) and the larger considerations driving him, making for an engaging movie that provokes both the brain and the taste buds. For more information about the Grenada Chocolate Company and Cooperative, visit www.GrenadaChocolate.com.
Written by: Brent Simon