The writer and essayist Gerald Early once said that “when they study our civilization two thousand years from now, there will only be three things that Americans will be known for: the Constitution, baseball and jazz music. They’re the three most beautiful things Americans have ever created.”
The movie “Sugar” drizzles over all three with a subtle savoring.
It’s a mellow movie written and directed by the team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck that follows the story of Miguel Santos aka (Azúcar) Sugar, a Dominican pitcher with a sweet secret pitch and personality. In his homeland, he hones his skills and English at a baseball academy. But on visits to his neighborhood, the local star arrives with a salsa Afro-Cuban beat to warm welcomes and wishes that he make it to “the States,” which is synonymous with Major League Baseball.
Released in April of 2009 in New York and Los Angeles, the film went direct to DVD with no other theatrical releases. Now, the movie made by the studio of HBO Films can be seen on HBO. While just grossing a little over $1 million, the box office receipts may have sealed its theatrical fate.
The deeper issue of how Hollywood and the movie-going audience treat the nuanced and subtle stories of black folks is examined by the Notorious Ph. D, Dr. Todd Boyd. On theroot.com, the good doctor discusses the lack of love for film adaptations of the works by the great playwright August Wilson.
Boden and Fleck don’t present a stereotypical sports movie riddled with clichés of obvious game and life changing moments but instead they allow you to discover, along with Sugar, played by a former baseball prospect turned actor Algenis Perez Soto, the pros and cons of the pursuit of happiness.
Soto seems natural on and off the field so much so you might start to feel you are watching a documentary that is truly chronicling his path. The film’s narrative, cinematography and editing provide a peaceful yet stimulating pace akin to watching a pitcher masterly using speed and location.
Sugar before leaving home to pursue his dreams in the States in the minor league is humble and noble wanting to provide for his family. Yet, he’s cocky enough to assure his girlfriend that he will return for her in a Cadillac that can cross the waters. However, while in Single A ball, he crosses paths with Midwestern youth evangelicals where it’s not sure if he is being saved or delivered into temptation.
There is also a US-born black Stanford educated player and Sugar sharing a strange relationship due to the language barrier. But ultimately, they find solidarity when the college boy ironically introduces Sugar to the Latin American baseball demigod Roberto Clemente and he finds they have more in common than a language and baseball.
The bond seems unlikely if you take the position that the comments of Torii Hunter, the US-born black Major Leaguer, about MLB masquerading Latin-born black players as the same as blacks born in the United States were aimed to attack those players born outside the US. Hunter, although not truly grasping that these players are often “black”, clarified that he views Latin-born players as baseball brothers while merely expressing the notion that there is an economic incentive to use them at the expense of US-born black players.
Sugar’s rise in the minor leagues en route to the majors may be temporary much like a sugar-high. The let down comes in the form of an injury and seeing older compatriots cut while even younger phenoms stalk his mound. On the outside, Sugar moves through the trails with grace but inside he is unsure. The long-distance calls back home change in tenor as his troubles mount.
As reality sets in, Sugar wonders if there is more to the States and himself than Major League Baseball.