To those who don’t closely follow Haitian politics, Ben Patterson’s film Sweet Micky for President accomplishes what it sets out to do: tell an unconvoluted, sanitized tale of how a provocative, bald-headed singer became Haiti’s president 15 months after a devastating earthquake.
But to Haiti buffs, the film’s dramatized behind-the-scenes account of President Michel Martelly’s 2010 campaign as the race’s spoiler is over the top. There are some obvious missing elements, which if included, would have helped shed light on why Martelly’s presidency has been plagued by political turmoil since his controversial April 2011 win.
The film begins with historical but stereotypical black and white footage that leaves viewers questioning if they are about to see a satire. But a minute in, it becomes clear it’s a documentary with scenes sharply shifting from showing people meeting “adversity with humor and dance” to being terrorized by the country’s Duvalier dictatorship and their never-ending fight for democracy. The frames are carefully crafted to reinforce the film’s message of Martelly as the outsider running to root out corruption and put Haiti on the right track.
The film is narrated and told from the viewpoint of Pras Michel, the former Fugees rapper and an early supporter of Martelly’s presidential bid. Michel’s narration undoubtedly helps in keeping track of events as the cameras follow Martelly on the campaign trail. But one can’t help but wonder: Is the film supposed to be about Michel or Martelly, a former Haitian konpa singer known to fans as Sweet Micky?
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To hear Michel put it, he was the one who convinced Martelly to run. Never mind that Martelly long carried the moniker “President” and was for years the object of presidential ambition whispers. Haitian observers would even argue that the catalyst for Martelly’s bid wasn’t Michel but former bandmate Wyclef Jean, whose own bid monopolized mainstream media until he was disqualified by the electoral council after it ruled Jean didn’t meet residency requirements.
Jean makes several cameos in the film, from his war of words with actor Sean Penn, a Martelly supporter, to their make-up session, to his eventual endorsement of Martelly. In addition to Penn, the film also features notable Haitians who happen to be Martelly critics — but one wouldn’t know it based on the film’s editing and how they are presented.
Michel does get credit for addressing his own controversy during the campaign, however. As the second round of voting neared, Michel tweeted, “Mess with me, I’ll fight back. Mess with my friends, I’ll hurt you. Mess with the ones I love, and they’ll never be able to identify you.” He also said supporters would burn Haiti if Martelly didn’t win. The tirades not only got him banned from appearing with Martelly but may have also cost him a role in Martelly’s administration.
Martelly’s underdog campaign was clearly a historic event, but it was also steeped in controversy — from his initial call to annul the elections amid allegations of ballot stuffing, to the opposition’s objections of the international community’s decision to move Martelly from the third position to the runoff spot. But don’t expect to see any of this in the film.
And while the film does take some liberties with the sequence of some events, what raises the most eyebrows is an altered copy of the Miami Herald, which broke the story of Martelly’s win. Instead of featuring the actual April 5, 2011, front page story with the headline “Martelly takes prize in Haiti,” the film placed a New York Times story on the page. Makes you wonder what else they took liberties with.
Non-Haiti experts will enjoy Sweet Micky for President, especially the fascinating behind-the-scenes footage of the strategy meetings. Haiti buffs, however, will find issues with the omissions and the somewhat skewed portrayals of key figures.