Black Gold: The Movie

This lesson provides a preview of the British documentary "Black Gold," which exposes unknown facts about the international coffee industry. Should consumers limit themselves to "fair trade coffee"?

Pre-Reading Questions

  1. Do you enjoy watching documentary films? Have you heard of the British documentary called Black Gold?
  2. Are you a coffee drinker? If so, do you go to cafes such as Starbucks very often?
  3. How much do you usually pay for a cup of coffee? Do you know how much a specialty coffee such as a cappuccino or latte costs?
  4. How much do you think a coffee farmer makes from a cup of coffee sold in the West?
  5. How much profit do you think international coffee companies make each year?
  6. Do you know what a “co-operative farm” is?

Vocabulary Preview

  • expose: show, uncover
  • labor: work
  • profit: money gained in business
  • consumer: a person who uses something
  • focus: put attention on
  • effort: trying hard to do something
  • plight: a very serious and difficult condition
  • negotiate: discuss in order to reach an agreement
  • wealthy: rich
  • convince: persuade; make someone want or believe something
  • address: speak about; deal with
  • narcotic: a  drug that can cause addiction
  • advocacy: working in support of someone or something

Practice these new words here: Vocabulary: Black Gold: The Movie

Black Gold: The Movie

  1. Black Gold is a recent British documentary film about the international coffee industry. It exposes a situation in which small coffee farmers in developing countries receive very little for their back-breaking labor, while international coffee corporations make huge profits selling the farmers’ coffee to consumers in rich nations.
  2. The film focuses on the efforts of Ethiopia’s Tadesse Meskela to teach the world’s coffee drinkers about the plight of small coffee farmers in Ethiopia, who make as little as three cents for each cup of coffee sold in the West. Meskela manages the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, which represents about 70,000 farmers. He wants farmer cooperatives like his to be able to negotiate better and fairer prices for their product.
  3. The film follows Meskala as he journeys to wealthy countries like the United States and England to try to convince coffee drinkers and those involved in the coffee trade to buy Ethiopian coffee for which Ethiopian farmers have been fairly paid. Although some argue that civil unrest in Ethiopia also affects its small coffee farmers, the film does not address this issue.
  4. Viewers learn that the price paid to small coffee producers has fallen sharply since 1989, when coffee began to be traded on the New York commodity market. In 2001, coffee prices were the lowest in 30 years. In Ethiopia, some farmers either gave up farming or stopped growing coffee and started growing “chat”, a narcotic, in order to feed and clothe their families. Yet, over the last five years, international coffee corporations together have profited by as much as $80 billion a year.
  5. Although the international price of coffee has risen in the last few years, small coffee farmers like those in Ethiopia are still poor and the coffee corporations are getting richer. The film’s message is that it will take consumer education, political advocacy by ordinary citizens in rich nations, and the willingness of coffee corporations to change their policies to improve the plight of the world’s small coffee growers.

Post Reading Questions

  1. Why do you think coffee companies such as Starbucks have grown so rapidly in recent years?
  2. Why do you think coffee is referred to as “Black Gold”?
  3. Have you seen coffee that is labeled “fair trade”? What do you think this means? Do you usually buy this kind of coffee? Why or why not?
  4. Are you willing to pay more for coffee that you know is registered “fair trade”? If so, how much more are you willing to pay?
  5. What measures can individuals in the West take to help improve the plight of poor coffee farmers around the world?
  6. What measures can large coffee corporations take to help improve the plight of poor coffee farmers around the world?

Additional Resources