Sugar Cane Alley

Sugar Cane Alley
Directed by Euzhan Palcy
Written by Euzhan Palcy
Based on Sugar Cane Alley by Joseph Zobel
Music by Groupe Malavoi
Cinematography Dominique Chapuis
Edited by Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte
NEF Diffusion
Orca Productions
Distributed by Nouvelles Éditions de Films (NEF)
Release dates
  • 1983 (1983)
Running time
103 minutes
Country France
Language French

Sugar Cane Alley (French title: La Rue Cases-Nègres) is a 1983 film directed by Euzhan Palcy. It is set in Martinique in the 1930s, where blacks working sugarcane fields were still treated harshly by the white ruling class. It is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Joseph Zobel of the same name, or, alternatively titled Black Shack Alley.


José, the protagonist, is a young boy living in a rural part of Martinique in the 1930s. Many of the people around him, including his grandmother, Ma'Tine, work in the sugar cane fields where they are often mistreated by the white boss. José, an orphan, has a father figure in an elderly man named Medouze who likes to tell him stories about Africa. José attends school at the insistence of his grandmother, who doesn't want him to end up like the other children, working in the fields. Medouze goes missing, and José finds him dead at the bottom of a valley. At school, José befriends a mulatto boy named Léopold whose father doesn't want him to associate with the field workers. While José and Léopold are playing, the father tries to come get him and gets kicked in the stomach by a horse, leading to his death. José wins a partial scholarship to attend high school in Fort-de-France, the capital. His grandmother accompanies him there, working as a laundrywoman for the rich white ruling class to pay for costs. They are able to find a small trailer to use as a home thanks to José's friend who works as a boat driver. José deals with pressure around him, especially from one of his teachers. When he writes an essay on the lives of poor blacks he is accused of plagiarism, so he runs away from school, back to his small shack in the city. The professor goes to his house and tells José that he was wrongly accused, offering an apology and a full scholarship to the school. Later José returns to Black Shack Alley after his grandmother has a heart attack while returning home from a trip to a local clothesmaker to make José a fresh suit. José sees Léopold being punished for stealing the bosses ledger to prove that he was cheating the workers out of their earned money. As his grandmother dies, José is launched into a future he cannot control.


17 international Awards. The film swept the César Awards (the equivalent of the Academy Award in France), and won four awards at the 40th Venice Film Festival., including the Silver Lion. The actress, Darling Légitimus, 76 years old at this period, won the Prize of Best Actress (Gold Lion). The film won also the Venice Film Festival Unicef Award and the International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisual (OCIC) award. In America, it won the First Prize Critics Award at the Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival. In Africa it won the first Public Award at the Fespaco.

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