Sociology
 

Au tournant de l'histoire: Les femmes chefs d'entreprise en Martinique

Lifting the Weight of History: How French-Caribbean Women Entrepreneurs Are Changing the Culture of Business (English Translation)

Map

Length: 25 minutes
Broadcast Version: May 4, 2008 on RFO France to overseas French areas and on May 20, 2008 on France 3 nationally in France
Funding Sources: National Science Foundation, Colorado State University
Producer, Researcher, Writer: Katherine Browne
Filmmaker: Ginny Martin
Original language: French; English available in late summer 2008

Video file size: 3.25MB - Download time varies depending on your Internet connection!

Overview:
The footage of this beautiful island and its residents accompanies a serious look at the paradigm-shifting role of women business leaders in an area of the Caribbean where the culture of business has been overwhelmingly dominated by a tiny minority of the island’s population--white male descendants of slaveowners. This ethnographic documentary tells the story of how entrepreneurial women who are descended from slaves, are confronting the difficult legacies of their creole history, a history that has tainted the perception of the private sector.   

Background about the documentary:
For as long as their histories extend back in time, Afro-Caribbean majorities of Martinique have been the laborers for a tiny minority of white men and their businesses. The nature of these businesses has shifted, from plantation sugar during slavery, to services today. Tensions between workers and bosses have been reproduced as the Afro-Caribbean majority population (90%) has struggled to access economic resources held tightly by the powerful white minority (1%). Over the years since slavery, the effect of the continuing mistrust and suspicion of whites by blacks has fueled the sense that bosses exploit workers and that working hard is unrelated to advancement. Such deeply-entrenched problems between workers and bosses leave the local culture of business impotent in the face of increasing competition from Caribbean neighbors and savvy business leaders from EU countries.

Martiniquais of color are today citizens of France, and as such, they are proud to claim privileges envied by their Caribbean neighbors. But this majority also feels that the full promise of Frenchness was never delivered. Moreover, jobs in the once-ample government sector are vanishing and social security benefits are eroding.  For islanders in Martinique, the winnowing of government jobs has meant that more and more people are forced into the private sector to find work. At the same time, competition for all domains of business is more intense than ever. 

Growing numbers of women are creating businesses in this new environment and bringing new management styles and philosophical commitments that promote seamlessness between work and family, and sustainable, people-centered approaches to doing business.

The Documentary
Lifting the Weight of History showcases the stories of five remarkable Afro-Caribbean women whose lives are a testament to the empowerment of entrepreneurship. Yet while personal empowerment is an important value, the phenomenon of female entrepreneurship in this ex-slave society is also about how women are empowering their employees. In doing so, they are helping to bind a wound of history that has effectively crippled the culture of business in this island: hostility towards the boss, and apathy about work when it is for someone else.

Our film follows these women at work and at home. The stories of work and home show how the principle of economic independence so valued by these Afro-Caribbean women interacts with their commitments to mothering and to maintaining their femininity and identity as women. This complex mix of economic power, household management, and femininity offers a robust alternative view from the feminism promoted in the U.S.

Viewers will come to see how some women do and some do not rely on men, why women insist on caring for their families at home and how they also build workplace families they intend to retain, about how they prioritize communication at work and nurture a sense of belonging among employees, and about how they understand the need for productivity to be recognized and celebrated.

The result of these orientations is that women entrepreneurs are helping to lift the burdens of longstanding animosity between workers of color and their white bosses. By relying on their own models of management, rather than inherited models from men, women business owners are helping to lift this weight of history and move forward a community’s sense of possibility for the future.

The Characters:
In many ways, the lives of these five women underline the individual nature of a woman’s hopes and efforts and challenges. Our film introduces:

  • George, created a reupholstery fabrication company (age 52, married with 2 teenage sons)
  • Dominique, created two restaurants and an insurance franchise, (age 40, single mother of teenage daughter)
  • Ghislaine, started a vegetable farming operation (age 44, married with two young adult children)
  • Marie-Louise, created a medical lab (age 57, married with 5 grown children)
  • Janine, creator of tropical consumer products export company (age 33, male partner, no children)

At the same time, these womens’ stories transcend their own unique circumstances and find common ground in weaving a compelling larger narrative about ambitious women and the role they can play in building community. The supporting interviews that help tell this story include the following:

  • Justin Daniel, Afro-Caribbean, political scientist and Director, Center for Caribbean Research at the Université des Antilles et de la Guyane.
  • Roland Suvélor, Afro-Caribbean, professor emeritus of literature and well-known local historian.
  • Madeleine de Grandmaison, Afro-Caribbean, veteran politician, representative to France.
  • Marie-Claude Pastureau, French metropolitan, Director of School of Management and Commerce, elite French business school with branch campus in Martinique.
  • Marie-Eugénie André, Afro-Caribbean, Chief Assistant to President of the Retail and Industrial Businesses ministry.

FilmmakerProduction Team
Katherine Browne is principal investigator on the multisited, collaborative research project that inspired this film project. She recruited Ginny Martin, filmmaker, to be director and editor of this documentary. Browne’s role in the production of this documentary is researcher, writer, and producer. Ginny Martin is an independent filmmaker and shot all the footage for this documentary. Martin is also managing all post-production work, including visual editing, voice and sound mixing, subtitling, and final preparation for broadcast. Martin has won two national Emmy Awards for documentary productions.