Dole Food Company’s banana slip-up and what it meant for free speech
By Angela Espinoza, Arts Editor
In 2009, Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten met a great deal of controversy when he tried to release the documentary Bananas!*. The film examined the use of an illegal pesticide by the Dole Food Company on its banana farmers in Latin America. This pesticide, abbreviated as DBCP, caused many of the farmers to become sterile, and has over time, despite the end of its usage, resulted in further devastating effects to the environment.
For the year following Bananas!*’ attempted release, Dole filed lawsuits again Gertten and his crew, stating the film was based on false claims, and went as far as contacting individual news sources and businesses en mass worldwide on the “patent falsehoods” of the film. A number of financial issues still linger, but in the end, Gertten won the case against Dole—a victory that carries an immensely deep impact.
The lawsuit was the subject in the sequel-of-sorts, Big Boys Gone Bananas!*, which was screened at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in May, with Gertten and fellow crew member and Vancouverite Bart Simpson (yes, that is actually his name) in attendance. The inspirational win at the end of the film was made possible by the fact that Gertten now had the parliament of Sweden on his side, causing the start of a European movement in support of fair trade bananas—the other, less talked about basis behind Bananas!*.
Both Bananas!* and Big Boys Gone Bananas!* tried to have and, again, created a much deeper result for viewers of the films. For one, there is the obvious solemn victory for the banana farmers, whose plight has now been recognized—although there are still many trials ahead for the victims of Dole’s misconduct. While one would like to hope this level of mistreatment never happened again, the reality is that the damage has been done, and while Dole lost the lawsuit, a sincere apology was likely never in their agenda.
However, in a more positive light, the fact that Gertten’s own government made a stand and backed him up against Dole’s Goliath-like fury does make it clear how possible change can be when society bands together to fight for a secure cause. After all, Sweden’s parliament wouldn’t have gotten involved had Dole not began, to put it bluntly, bullying small businesses within Sweden who were arguing in favour of Gertten.
But there still remains not a victory, but a lesson learned on another level all together. Although Gertten eventually won the war, the battle was lost due to the inability of multiple news sources finding the time, let alone surely not even bothering to check facts. With Dole mass-emailing news sources seemingly out of nowhere about, of all things, an independent Swedish film, few thought to tell themselves that the situation didn’t make any sense.
It became clear in the end that Dole was fighting to protect their image, but this was something that should have been made clear long before. No one got any answers by not asking questions—and an easy answer should always be something to consider looking further into.
Not everyone who wants change, or even justice, wants there to be a war, but that’s just life. As was the subject of Bananas!*, and in a strange turn of events, Big Boys Gone Bananas!*, the little guy is more often than not, not the enemy. Change doesn’t happen over night, and it doesn’t happen because one person did all the work—change relies on group effort, and although a little guy may not have a fighting chance, thousands of little guys (which in the digital age really is not hard to rally up) are hard to ignore.