Socialist Worker

Sunshine State: the darker side of the American Dream

by Gareth Jenkins
Issue No. 1811

Sunshine State is the new film from the radical film director John Sayles. The 'sunshine state' of the title is Florida, and the film tells us much about the realities underlying the American Dream. The 'Buccaneer Days' are a marketing ploy dreamt up by the local Chamber of Commerce to exploit the pirate history of Florida.

But the pirates are not simply a Disney-style image. Modern day pirates, in the shape of buccaneering corporate companies, are busy 'raiding' the coastline, buying up and destroying older patterns of life. Two women-one white, one black-are caught up in the process. Marly runs her father's motel, has a useless ex-husband and a theatrical, environmentally conscious mother.

Desiree has returned reluctantly with her new husband to visit her mother who has taken in a disturbed teenager. Though their lives barely touch, both are trapped by a shared history of segregated communities and a shared future of corporate greed. Both have blighted aspirations. Both want to move on. Their lives reflect broader patterns in the twin communities that make up Plantation Island.

The name reflects its origins in slavery. Jim Crow laws once forced black people to buy up land so as to shape their own enclosed world. Society has now opened up. But a new exploitation has been let in-determined by one colour only, that of money.

A central theme of the film is the way in which no aspect of existence-not even the natural world-is left untouched by the drive to change it into a commodity that can be bought and sold. So the swampland is landscaped to make a 'natural' gated community (for the rich)-or it becomes the manicured fairway of golfing greens that exist cheek by jowl with shopping malls.

This is a fascinating film from John Sayles, whose previous works include the excellent films Matewan and Lone Star. Try to see his new film if you can.

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Sat 3 Aug 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1811
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