Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ghosts of Cite Soleil DVD

DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Haitian Gangsta Documentary Out on DVD

If you want to get an idea of how much gangsta rap has influenced cultures elsewhere around the world, check out Ghosts of Cite Soleil, a revealing documentary about a bloody turf war inside a notorious Haitian slum. What makes this movie compelling is that the leaders of the competing posses, Tupac and Bily, are also blood brothers. And on top of that they are both in love with the same girl, Lele, a French missionary with an incurable case of Jungle Fever for these bad boys.
The film unfolds against the backdrop of the impending fall of the Jean-Bertrand Aristide regime, which is of considerable significance because the gangs are ostensibly operating with the tacit approval of the outgoing president. In fact, these sadistic goons openly brag on camera that they’ve been armed by Aristide to intimidate and eliminate his political enemies, which might explain why the Marines later land to restore a little law and order.
The screen is filled with unoriginal wannabes sporting nicknames right out of rap videos, such as Tupac and 50 Cent. Where have I heard those before? And like the icons they adore, they dream of shooting their way out of the ghetto and leaving the life of crime behind to become famous hip-hop stars. Meanwhile, their behavior mimics that of their heroes which means mostly murder, misogyny, weed, profanity and the N-word. At one point, Bily even says of his own sibling, “If Tupac weren’t my brother, I’d kill him already.” Charming.
By the end, most of the people you’ve been watching have either died or disappeared, except for gun moll Lele, of course, who had the sense to hightail it back to France. This gritty flick was produced with the help of the most famous Haitian hip-hop entertainer around, Wyclef Jean.

Excellent (4 stars)
In Haitian, French and English with subtitles.
Running time: 85 minutes
Studio: ThinkFilm/Velocity
DVD Extras: Theatrical trailer and a trailer gallery.

Postscript: After I first reviewed this film when it was released in theaters, I received several letters to the editor from folks with a political agenda defending the gangstas in the film, suggesting that they were freedom fighters taking on American imperialism. However, after re-screening the movie and consulting with Haitians who have seen the flick, I saw no reason to alter the tenor or tone of my original assessment, since these hoodlums are no better than American ghetto gangstas who terrorize their own neighborhoods by glamorizing black-on-black crime.

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