Apr 12, 2013

Searching For Sugar Man

Better late than never. We finally saw Academy Award documentary winner Waiting for Sugar Man, by Swedish filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul, a perfectly decent film that tells the fantastic saga of Rodriguez, a hardworking Detroit man of Mexican descent who started singing in the 70s and despite his enormous songwriting and singing talent, was utterly ignored in the US.
Somehow his records made it to South Africa, where he was huge, except he didn't know it. The story is told like the mystery it is and it is suspenseful, heartbreaking and tremendously moving. Besides Rodriguez and his self-effacing personality, besides the fact that he made a living as a construction worker and continues to display humility that's almost impossible to fathom, the rich paradox of this film is that he was ignored in his own country because the USA was not ready then for a Latino man, with Latino looks and last name, who wrote and sang folk protest songs a la Bob Dylan, (who may I remind you, changed his name from Robert Zimmerman). In those days, all America was ready for in terms of Latino artists was Charo or Desi Arnaz, clownish, exaggerated Latino stereotypes.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, in the height of apartheid, Rodriguez's records were so popular among whites that the government banned some of his songs.  But his fans didn't know anything about him because no one in America had heard of him. Through the perseverance of a journalist and an obsessed fan, they finally tracked him down. This is a most unlikely story of the real triumph of the human spirit, a spirit strangely untainted by greed, by a chip on the shoulder, or self-righteousness. It's easy to understand why the film won the Oscar (even though I still think The Gatekeepers should have won) and it is good to know that because of the film Rodriguez is back on stage and finally getting the recognition he deserves.

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