A Documentary Analysis on “Searching for the Sugar Man”

A Documentary Analysis on “Searching for the Sugar Man”

The Oscar-winning documentary movie “Searching for the Sugar Man” is a 2012 Swedish film that tells the incredible story of an underrated musical artist who eventually had an amazing career.  This movie focuses on the life and career of a sensational musical artist named as Sixto Rodriguez. Rodriguez, a legendary artist commenced his musical career in the late 1960’s at Detroit, Michigan state. However, his journey success was never a smooth ride as he faced racial discrimination that was attributed by his Latino background and heritage. Even though the movie sought to describe Rodriguez’s journey to success, a vast majority of viewers are dubious of the film due to Rodriguez’s mysterious personality. In fact some media sources have claimed that Rodriguez had not in anyway participated in the making of the film. Instead, it was the film producer, Malik Bendjelloul, who wrote the entire script of the film without any assistance from the star character.  It is with this profound reason that other sources regarded the movie as having inaccurate facts on Rodriguez’s journey though his musical career.

By the end of the  20th  century, the Blacks in residing in the United States were given full recognition as American citizens . On the other hand, the Latino community were still isolated and discriminated upon.  It is with this profound reason that Rodriguez’s songs were never frequently played on the different media stations in the United States. However, things took a turn for the best when Rodriguez visited South Africa for a performance. The South Africans were captivated by Rodriguez’s songs especially due to the fact that he embraced his Latino culture and traditions.  During that period of time, South Africans had little knowledge of the Latino culture and heritage. Thus, Rodriguez was quickly introduced to the limelight because of his unique and infamous Latino culture. In addition, Rodriguez became the country’s sensation due to his songs which conveyed important message that was against establishment. This later on resulted to the establishment of key revolutionary slogans that were against establishments. To add to this, Rodriguez popularity may have been indirectly influenced by the Cuban revolution. Having done a thorough analysis on the documentary movie and the outside sources referral, we discovered some intriguing and interesting facts about Rodriguez some of which are unknown to many.

According to the producers of the documentary movie, Sixto Rodriguez was regarded a man full of mysteries.  He is described as a person who never liked to invite or be visited by guests in his house. Instead, he preferred to meet, socialize and interact with people in an outdoor setting. Hence, Rodriguez was perceived as being homeless by a vast majority of people whom he interacted with.  Rodriguez is also described to be a man who is an economist as opposed to being a spendthrift. This is clearly elucidated by his modest living lifestyle that he has attempted to maintain for the last 40 years.

Rodriguez would be easily confused as a loner who loved to live in isolation. True to this, Rodriguez owned no cell phones and his daughter, Regan would always insist on the needed to at least own one. His daughter, Regan, attempted to persuade him to adapt to using a cell phone because she was worried that her father would feel isolated.  In the movie, Rodriguez would give weird and awkward responses during a vital dialogue with his interviewer. Most people describe Rodriguez as a shy person as depicted by his behavior among people. In addition, Rodriguez has a habit of responding to a conversation by giving very short and indirect feedbacks. One can never fail to notice his indirect, short responses that he usually gives when he is questioned anything concerning his personal life or even his opinions on certain matters.  In essence, Rodriguez can be describes as being both shy and an introvert.  This means that Rodriguez does not like to excessively interact with different people. Instead, he is regarded as a man who prefers being on his own, in solitude.  Aside from that, I think that he has a low self-esteem as he is also unsure of his own remarkable talent.  According to Bendjelloul, Rodriguez had never planned to attend any of the Oscar awards ceremony. He would firmly decline to the invitation even after being strongly convinced to attend the ceremony time and again.  Rodriguez was fast and sound asleep when his own movie was announced as the winner of an Oscar award. Unlike normal people who will be esthetic with the fantastic news, Rodriguez reaction could only be described as strange. It is no wonder why many people continue to describe him as a very mysterious man.

Furthermore, a few media sources have confirmed that Rodriguez had retaliated on the idea of producing a documentary movie that would describe his life. To add to this, the sources strongly believe that the idea of the entire movie had been developed by Bandjelloul in conjunction with Rodriguez’s daughters. I am strongly convinced that Rodriguez participated to the production of the movie due to his daughters’ persistence. After Bendjelloul three visits to Sixto in Detroit, Sixto finally decided to accept the offer of being a participant in the making of the documentary movie. Finding Rodriguez in the busy towns of South Africa had not been a piece of cake. It is only with the help of two South African advocates namely Stephen Segerman and Craig Bartholomew-Strydrom, that Bendjelloul was finally able to find Rodriguez. This was notably done through a milk campaign where each milk carton found in the city of Detroit had Rodriguez’s photo.  Eventually, Rodriguez got a hold on one of the milk carton where he was astonished to see his own photo as a missing person.  Rodriguez admits on how he got surprised upon seeing his pictures on a milk carton. However, during the interviews, Rodriguez confessed of the fact that he did not have any intention of reaching out to the people who had been searching for him. In an interview with Bob Simon on CBS channel in the famous television program “60 Minutes”, it was noted that Rodriguez dodged to answer most of Simon’s interview questions.   For some reason, Rodriguez evaded to answer most of the questions revolving around his reactions upon viewing the movie. Nonetheless, Rodriguez commended his daughters for their ideas and participation in the documentary. He also admitted to having been proud of seeing his own daughters in the movie.  This thus confirms of the fact that Rodriguez’s daughters have played a key role in persuading their father to participate in the documentary movie.

In spite of the fact that Rodriguez gained recognition in the United States as a result of the released documentary movie, the movie gave inaccurate historic facts of Rodriguez’s life.

A lot of national television interviews, newspapers, and especially the movie only focused on Rodriguez’s journey of his musical career. On the other hand, the different media sources failed to mention Australia as the first country to recognize Rodriguez’s gifted musical talent. Instead, most of the sources claim that South Africa was the first country after the United States to recognize Rodriguez’s talent. According to the Australian radio DJ, Holger Brockman, Rodriguez’s album “Cold Fact” was top listed songs played on the Australia radio waves.  In records stores, Rodriguez’s “Cold fact” album was in very high demand as single vinyl record would cost $300 or even more.  As a matter of fact, Rodriguez himself went on tour to Sydney, during the first quarter of the year 1979 after the Australian music promoter, Michael Coppel, had invited for a paid concert performance.  Rodriguez sung on stage to an audience approximately to be made of 15,000 people.  Following his tours in Australia, Rodriguez managed to make excellent profits which later led him to releasing a live album that was recorded from the concerts.  All this occurred prior to his further musical career progression in South Africa.  However, the director of the movie, Bendjelloul, defended his work against the inaccuracy claims brought up by the different media sources. Bandjelloul gave his defense by elucidating that the movie was mainly intended to describe the South Africans viewpoint of Rodriguez as a musical sensation.

The fame of Sixto Rodriguez in South Africa may have been attributed by his Latino identity.  In the late 20th century, the Latino community were discriminated upon and socially recognized as being low-class criminals.  The Mexican-American writer, Martha Serrano, also affirmed this fact in one of her articles named as “Chicana”. In her article, Martha claims that the Latinos residing in the United States were always negatively stereotyped as criminals who loved violence.  One of the movie guests also commented on this situation when he said “Everybody knew Rodriguez, as a Latin name”.  During Rodriguez’s time in the United States, Latino music could never be heard on the sound airwaves as it could not be produced.” (Avant).  Because of this daunting issue, Rodriguez popularity would never have progressed during that time while he was in the United States.  However, the Latin culture was not widely known in other countries aside from the two American continents.  For instance, in South Africa, the racial tension was exclusively between the black and white people.  At that time, the Latinos were out of the picture due to their geographical distance and foreign culture.  On the contrary, the Latinos were strongly identified with the Cuban Revolution during mid 20th century.  During the 1970s, at the time which Rodriguez’s album was first brought into South Africa, the country was under extreme oppression by its abusive government.  Many of the people in South Africa were in support  of the uprising Internal Resistance to Apartheid movement that was led by Nelson Mandela.  What is not known to people outside South Africa is that the movement was secretly supported by the Cuban Revolutionary Army.  It is during this period that South Africans grew to support and respect the Latino community. “We did not know what the word ‘anti-establishment’ was until it cropped up on a Rodriguez song and then we found out it is okay to protest against your society” is a statement that was mentioned in the movie to describe South Africans support towards Rodriguez musical career (Segerman).  Rodriguez was also a Latino, and some of his songs were embedded with words that supported the idea of anti-establishment.  His racial identity deprived him the right to be recognized in his own country, but his talent became appreciated in a foreign country.

Sadly, even though Sixto Rodriguez was a talented musical artist, his talent was never appreciated in his own country of origin.  In addition, Rodriguez is described to be an introvert who enjoys being in solitude.  As opposed to Rodriguez, the idea of the movie production should be attributed to its director, Malik Bendjelloul, who showed his full support in making the documentary movie.  Even though the movie inspired many people including Rodriguez himself, it failed to include certain important historical facts about the artist’s life.  In conclusion, Rodriguez racial identity played a huge part in transforming his musical career from being less successful in the United States and more successful while in oversea countries such as South Africa and Australia.


Works Cited

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“Rodriguez: The rock icon who didn’t know it.” Interview by Bob Simon. 60 Minutes. CBS.

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