Sweet Micky for President Ben Patterson
Published Apr 28, 2015Sweet Micky for President details the 2011 election that took place in Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in the country that killed over 200,000 people. It's told through the campaign of the country's current president, Michel Martelly.
Before his presidential role however, Martelly was known in Haiti as Sweet Micky, a kompa performer known for his controversial and outrageous stage presence and penchant for vulgarity, which totally overshadowed the political critiques in his music. The film details how Martelly became involved in politics in the aftermath of the earthquake after he was urged to participate in the process by Pras Michel, formerly one-third of the successful '90s hip-hop group the Fugees. Sweet Micky for President is told mainly from Pras' point of view. He's credited for the film's story, and in addition to being a producer, he also provides the film's voiceover and supplies a motivational pep talk to Martelly before his first press conference. The film's premise focuses on Pras touting Martelly as the best answer to Haiti's immediate and historical problems.
As one of the poorest nations in the world even before the 2011 earthquake, Haiti's history as the first country to successfully carry out a slave rebellion in 1804 has exacted an immeasurable social and economic price, leading to the bloody, brutal regimes of Papa Doc Duvalier and his son Baby Doc Duvalier from the late '50s to the mid '80s, until the democratic election of Jean-Bertand Aristide. While the archival footage and use of 3D effects on images bring some immediate tangibility to these historical effects, an in-depth assessment of the legacy and underlying forces of this history — especially given the fact that academics like Noam Chomsky are on hand — is unfortunately lacking.
Similarly, despite the jarring, compelling footage of the 2011 earthquake featuring people running for their lives from grocery stores and running down corridors in the presidential palace, the voices and the needs of the people directly affected by the earthquake, which coincided with the end of then-president Preval's electoral term, are largely sidelined.
The film presents Martelly as the candidate in the election that Haiti needs, but it's not until about the hour mark that director Ben Patterson gives us any concrete insight into what his political platform might be. While he speaks glowingly of Haiti's energy and agriculture potential, the short-term issues of the people affected by the earthquake that the film started so powerfully with aren't given priority status.
Additionally, the analysis of the political campaign itself could have been much better. The machinations behind how Martelly is restored to the runoff after voter fraud in favour of Jude Celestin, Preval's son-in-law and favoured successor is uncovered, is simplistic. Similarly, an assessment of political veteran Mirlande Manigat, who represented Martelly's final challenge for the presidency, is also severely lacking.
If you are willing to overlook these shortcomings and accept that Sweet Micky for President is a film driven by personalities and thin on policies, it's an entertaining film. Not long after Martelly announces his candidacy in Montreal to influence the Haitian diaspora (a testy encounter with a community radio host provides a startling moment), Pras' ex-Fugee band mate Wyclef Jean enters the fray as a presidential candidate, not only shaking up the electoral campaign, but also revealing the high tension that existed between the former band mates. Ben Stiller and Sean Penn, in particular, show up to lend their support, and the Clintons aren't too far away from the election campaign.
Unsurprisingly, given the involvement of Wyclef, Pras and Martelly, music eventually begins to play an important role in the campaign, but the euphoria it creates is temporal. Sweet Micky for President arrives at a time when allegations of corruption are swirling around Martelly's inner circle, something the film tentatively attempts to address at the very end. Given the way Martelly was enthusiastically introduced in the film, its ending, which quotes the Haitian proverb "Déyé Mon, Gen Mon" ("Beyond mountains, there are mountains") provides much sobering food for thought, but no easy answers for the future of the Haitian people.