Sweet Sugar Rage

Sistren Theatre Collective

19/07 - 30/07/2023

Sweet Sugar Rage (56min., 1985) exposes the exploitation of women’s labor in Jamaica’s sugar cane fields and shares the themes and methods of Sistren’s workshops and theatre in the context of their wider efforts in education, employment rights, and community activism. The film combines the testimony of women that work in the cane fields with evidence of their working conditions and their employers’ attitudes as the basis of drama workshops that bring rural and urban women into dialogue to analyze the exploitation of working-class women’s labor and to challenge the patriarchal attitudes of employers and unions alike. Following the methods of Paulo Freire’s “conscientization” and Bertolt Brecht’s “alienation method,” we see the women collectively take charge of staging and re-staging ways to challenge the systems that oppress them, which offers methodologies of learning together to acquire the feminist and decolonial tools to effect social change.

Sweet Sugar Rage is shown in the context of The Work We Share, a film program of ten newly digitized films from the Cinenova collection. Produced between 1972 and 1994, the films address oppositional histories and questions of difference through the lenses of gender, race, sexuality, health, and community.

The Work We Share gathers a number of films that previously existed in precarious conditions, in some cases, with negatives being lost or distribution film prints being the only copy. This program intends to acknowledge Cinenova’s interdependency: from organization to filmmakers, cultural workers, communities, and individuals. How can we acknowledge our interdependent relationships? How can we recognize our place in a network of communications, relationships, and resources, particularly as an un-funded volunteer organization? What different strains of labor does our work rely on? How do we sustain this work mutually?

Cinenova is a volunteer-run charity preserving and distributing the work of feminist film and video makers. It was founded in 1991 following the merger of two feminist film and video distributors, Circles and Cinema of Women, each formed in 1979. Cinenova currently distributes over 300 titles that include artists’ moving image, experimental film, narrative feature films, documentary, and educational videos made from the 1910s to the early 2000s.

Sistren Theatre Collective, which means ‘sisterhood,’ was founded in 1977 in Kingston, Jamaica, by working-class women in the social, cultural, and political context of Jamaica’s socialist experiment of the 1970s following the first decade of independence. Since 1977, Sistren has used art as a tool for social change for the discussion and analysis of gender-based violence and to provide solutions through organizational networks. The founding members included Vivette Lewis, Cerene Stephenson, Lana Finikin, Afolashade (then Pauline Crawford), Beverley Hanson, Jasmine Smith, Lorna Burrell Haslam, Beverley Elliot, Jerline Todd, Lillian Foster, May Thompson, Rebecca Knowles, and Barbara Gayle. Assisted by the actor and director Honor Ford-Smith, the Collective was forged through a government initiative to improve employment in Jamaica’s poorest communities. Plays like Downpression Get A Blow (1977), Bellywoman Bangarang (1978), Nana Yah (1980), QPH (1981), and Domestik (1982), along with community drama workshops, presaged the documentary Sweet Sugar Rage in 1985.

01Sistren Theatre Collective, Sweet Sugar Rage (still), 1985. Courtesy of the artists and Cinenova.



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