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Film: When Banana Ruled

June 27, 2019 @ 7:30 pm

A Film by Mathilde Damoisel; (2018, 52 minutes). At Hallwalls, 341 Delaware Ave (at Tupper), Buffalo 14202. ($8, $6 students/seniors, $5 Hallwalls members) Cosponsored by the WNY Peace Center.

Bananas are everywhere: Americans eat nearly 10 billion of them per year, consuming more pounds of bananas than apples and oranges combined.

When Banana Ruled tells the story of the men who made bananas the most ubiquitous fruit in the world, through a multinational empire that dominated production and sales, overthrew governments, and created a business model still largely used by today’s tech giants.

The story of bananas as commodities begins with a failed railway project started in Costa Rica in 1871, led by American Minor Cooper Keith. When the Costa Rican government defaulted on its payments to Keith for its construction, the businessman faced ruin. His salvation? Bananas. Keith would go on to co-found the United Fruit Company and within decades—after a concerted campaign led by the father of public relations, Edward Bernays—bananas became a staple of the North American diet. Animated mascot Miss Chiquita Banana was a pop culture icon, doctors recommended bananas as an ideal food for children, and bananas popped up in movies and Broadway musicals.

But, as When Banana Ruled documents, the entire enterprise was built on a rapacious, imperialist business model that required the domination of countries including Guatemala, Honduras, and Colombia. United Fruit took over critical national infrastructure like railways and ports, rapidly expanded plantations by displacing small (often Indigenous) farmers, bought itself favorable legislation, and, like today’s largest companies, sheltered profits offshore to avoid taxes.

Life on the plantations was a world within a world: A strict hierarchy with white managers from the best business schools, foremen from the US South (recruited for their knowledge of slavery), and black laborers paid largely in company food coupons and strictly forbidden to unionize. When a new, revolutionary government was formed in Guatemala, United Fruit’s plantations were nationalized. What happened next came straight from the playbook that would dominate US foreign policy in the region: claim a Communist threat, persuade legislators back home of its dangers, bomb the country, and install a new, pro-American and pro-business regime.

Using a rich trove of archival footage and documents, including letters to and from lobbyists, telegrams, vintage ads and movie clips, and gorgeous, hand-tinted stills, When Banana Ruled is a story of intrigue that touches on economics, international politics, and the history of multinational business, and reveals how an array of forces conquered the world through a simple fruit.

“This documentary tells the story of how a few American entrepreneurs20th-century conquistadorsturned much of Central America into a banana plantation using violence, theft, political cunning, and clever and sinister marketing, creating one of the world’s first multi-national corporations: United Fruit.” —KPFA
“An enlightening story, rich in archival footage, about a fruit that has become the symbol of colonialism, corruption, and the advent of capitalism.” France Inter
“Illustrates the beginnings of American imperialism and reflects on the legacy left by the United Fruit Company in Latin America.” —Le Monde
“A parable on the origins of neo-liberalism. It’s enough to make you a bananaphobe.” —Télérama
“United Fruit has inspired novels and poems. Now, this documentary provides the best overview of the history of ‘El Pulpo’s’ operations in Latin America.” Marcelo Bucheli, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign and author of the book Bananas and Business: The United Fruit Company in Colombia, 1899–2000
Best Documentary, 2018 Short Long World Festival, Argentina
Official Selection, 2018 Bahia Indepedent Cinema Festival, Brazil
Official Selection, South Film & Arts Academy Festival, UK
Official Selection, Salto Independent Film Festival, Uruguay
Official Selection, Cuzo Underground Cinema Festival, Peru


June 27, 2019
7:30 pm