is a controversial expose of the travesty of justice
that takes place around the shores of Florida's Lake Okeechobee-a
situation which, until the film's release, has been one of America's
best-kept secrets. There, for six months a year, over 10,000 men from
Jamaica and other Caribbean islands perform the brutal task of cutting
sugar cane by hand-a job so dangerous and low-paying that Americans
refuse to do it.
H-2 Worker is the first documentary to tell the story of these men - named for their special
temporary guestwork "H-2" visas. They live and work in conditions reminiscent of the days of
slavery on sugar plantations: housed in overcrowded barracks, poorly fed, denied adequate treatment
for their frequent on-the-job injuries, paid less than minimum wage, and deported if they do not
do exactly as they are told.
The sugar plantations who employ the H-2 workers sustain this exploitatioin - and their own
profits - with the help of the U.S. government, which authorizes the importation of Third World
workers while it blocks the importation of cheaper Third World sugar through a system of quotas
and price supports, citing "national security" as the reason for its costly subsidizing of a
domestic sugar industry.
The scandal of the H-2 program has existed for over 45 years. It began in 1942, when the U.S.
Sugar Cane Corporation was indicted for conspiracy to enslave black American workers. In 1943
the first West Indian cane cutters were brought in. This scandal has largely been kept out of
the public eye, and the sugar companies and their government supporters have escaped accountability.
On the contrary, a new immigration law has paved the way for a rapid expansion of the H-2 program
to other agricultural industries.
H-2 Worker was shot clandestinely in the cane fields and workers' barracks around Belle Glade,
Florida. It contains footage shot in places where no media has been successful in filming before,
and where the filmmakers were denied permission to enter by the sugar corporations and the local
H-2 Worker focuses on the lives of the workers themselves - travelling with them to the fields,
where they endure long hours of monotonous labor; to their isolated barracks; to the town where they
shop for American goods to bring home to their families. Following them through one six-month
season, it tell their stories: Like migrant workers worldwide, these men are driven by soaring
unemployment in their home countries and promises of high wages abroad. Dreaming of American
opportunities to build better lives for their families, they arrive in the U.S. with high hopes -
only to confront the harsh realities of the Florida cane fields.
Providing an in-depth analysis, H-2 Worker includes voices from all sides of the issue: representatives
of the sugar companies and the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as U.S.l congressmen and Jamaican
Prime Minister Michael Manley. An historical analysis combine archival footage with the testimony
of 80-year-old Samuel Manston, who escaped the cane fields at the time of the peonage indictments
But the voices of the workers themselves are foremost: They are heard through extensive interviews,
and through their recordings of actual letters to and from their families in Jamaica. These
voices tell an eloquent story which rings with painful truth, and will not easily be forgotten.
H-2 Worker is both a compelling expose of institutionalized injustice, and a moving record of
H-2 Worker, a 70-minute, 16 mm, color documentary made over the course of 3 1/2 years,
combines the talents of director/producer Stephanie Black, award-winning editor
John Mullen and cinematographer Maryse Alberti. It is a film with powerful impact and
resonance, certain to be both compelling and controversial.
"'H-2 Worker' is that rare hybrid that succeeds as both film and advocacy. The documentary's
look and form is smooth and sophisticated ... [and] it solidly frames issues about the economy,
employment, and the treatment of workers who seem just steps away from slavery."
-The New York Times
"'H-2 Worker' is a revealing look at these men and the treatment they receive on our shores ... [Stephanie Black]
manages to capture the scope as well as the intensity of the problem.
-New York Newsday
"With admirable fluency, Black combines straightforward information and analysis with more
evocative glimpses of the workers' lives .... Black and her collaborators have an unsentimental
conviction that these workers are fully human, that they experience not just anger and suffering
but also love and pleasure - and even hope."