Documentary recommendation: searching for sugar man

In the 70s of the last century, apartheid was at its peak in South Africa. The majority is mired in deep poverty, unemployment and inequality. Everything was censored and examined. It is under that context that songs coming across the Atlantic captured people’s notice.

“I wonder how many times you’ve been had
And I wonder how many plans have gone bad
I wonder how many times you had sex” (I wonder)

“The mayor hides the crime rate
council woman hesitates
Public gets irate but forget the vote date
Weatherman complaining, predicted sun, it’s raining
Everyone’s protesting, boyfriend keeps suggesting
you’re not like all of the rest.” (The establishment blues)

These swiftly became the anthem of freedom fighters who were not even allowed to speak “sex” in the public. People are talking about establishment without knowing the exact meaning. An inspiring voice has evoked their discontent towards the injustice society. The spiritual leader, Rodriguez becomes a household name in South African without people knowing details of his life. The only clue was his photo on the album, his appearance being covered by his sunglasses and hat. Meanwhile, Rodriguez, a Detroit musician who had made no fame in America, has been discarded by his record company. He had to work as a decorator in order to make ends meet. He witnessed the suffering of the blue collar and poor immigrant family in America. Painfully, he transformed the misery into something beautiful without anyone recognizing him in his country.

In late 1990s, rumor had it that Rodriguez committed suicide. Two of his fans from Cape Town, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom decided to find out if it is true and most importantly, who Rodriguez was. The story of the mysterious man finally was revealed.

What really touched me is that no matter at his peak or low, Rodriguez always has the almost saintly and magical serenity. As one of his colleagues said, “he has this quality that all genuine poets and artists had, to elevate things, to get above the mundane, the bullshit, all the mediocrity that’s everywhere.” When he finally opened concert in South Africa, he had worked arduously for decades. Someone asked him: what do you think that you could have been a superstar? I don’t know. He said, without pity or anger. He is a hard labor who would wear tuxedo when doing dirty work. He is an oyster who transforms sands to pearls.

The documentary is a tribute to the underestimated singer. Most interviews are conducted, however, with the families and friends of Rodriguez. Rodriguez himself is well drawn on the screen without him saying too much. His walk, his songs … all suggest the lost but crucified mind in that era.

“Street boy
You’ve been out too long
Street boy
Ain’t you got enough sense to go home
Street boy
You’re gonna end up alone
You need some love and understanding
Not that dead-end life you’re planning
Street boy…” (Street boy)

Watch link: http://documentary-movie.com/searching-for-sugar-man/


About the author

Madeline Xia

Madeline is currently a student in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology interested about journalism.