By Kyle Wooldridge
Have you ever purchased a chocolate bar in your lifetime? If so, I have bad news for you: you’re a criminal. You may be wondering when Congress passed a law against chocolate, but that’s not actually the issue at hand. The issue is that everyone who has bought chocolate has supported child slavery. Don’t be alarmed. You’re not going to jail or anything and no judge would ever take this case, but this is the subject of the documentary The Chocolate Case.
The Chocolate Case follows the journey of Dutch journalist Teun van de Keuken (or Tony for short), who tried to expose the chocolate industry for their use of child slavery for harvesting cocoa beans. Although this started out as a journalistic endeavor, the mission evolved over many years and Tony ended up creating the first 100% slave-free chocolate bars with his company, Tony Chocolonely.
This documentary is fascinating, hard-hitting, and very entertaining. Right off the bat, I was drawn to Tony as a person. He is very charismatic and charming. For example, his introduction involves him prank calling the police to try to get himself arrested for supporting child slavery. This is a very smart and fun way to introduce us to the grave subject of the documentary. Documentaries sometimes get a bad rap for being boring (and believe me, I’ve seen my share of boring documentaries), but I think that when they focus on a person like Tony, it really enhances the filmmaker’s ability to keep the audience’s attention and get the point across.
Not only is Tony himself very entertaining, but the storyline of the documentary is also riveting. The way the plot keeps evolving – from Tony being mainly a journalist, to Tony trying to prosecute himself, to him trying to get other companies to create a slave-free chocolate bar, to the creation of Tony Chocolonely – kept me captivated throughout. I learned a lot about the chocolate industry and what goes on behind closed doors, but they do such a good job presenting the information that it didn’t feel like one of those informative documentaries. Honestly, it feels at times like a narrative film in the way the story has a plot and progression and character arcs. I think the way in which the filmmakers frame this subject and make it feel like a narrative help pull the audience into the story and make them care about the cause. I can honestly say that after this documentary I will question the morality of purchasing my next chocolate bar. The fact that they are able to get their message across so strongly and clearly that it reached me, a huge chocolate fan, shows how successful they are in accomplishing their mission.
I really liked how much footage they have between interviews so we as the viewers actually get to see the events unfold, rather than just hear people talk about them. The documentary covers just over a decade’s worth of information and events, but Tony and his friends who helped along the way did a wonderful job recording themselves at every step of the process. This was largely because they themselves were journalists, so they did what came naturally to them: they document their every moves. This really helps the documentary become a visual story that people can relate to, and is a large part of why this film feels like a narrative at times. One of my biggest complaints about documentaries is that they typically rely too heavily on interviews and people telling us what happened rather than showing us, so it was very refreshing to see a documentary that has a great balance of the two.
While I was totally engrossed in the film, I did have a couple issues with it. One minor, somewhat nit-picky flaw I found with the film was that it relies heavily on its interview shots early in the movie. As the movie gets going, they feel a lot more natural, but what really drew my attention to it in the first twenty minutes was the fact that every interview in the film was shot in the exact same location, with the exact same background. Sometimes they cut between three different interviews consecutively with the exact same background. Like I said, I’m being pretty picky complaining about this, especially since they do have such great footage in the film going forward, but it did distract me a bit.
A slightly larger issue I had with the film was the ending. The film reaches a point where their company is off the ground and has succeeded in creating 100% slave-free chocolate, but there is still around 20 minutes of the film left. They start to discuss that, while they have done a lot, they still haven’t created as much change in the industry as they had hoped. I really appreciated that the film touched on this because I was feeling pretty victorious during the film. This part is a reminder that there is still work to be done in this regard and that we haven’t beaten child slavery quite yet. While I really appreciate that this is touched on, I feel like they stay with this topic longer than necessary to get the point across. It almost feels as if the filmmakers have lost direction and start rambling towards the end. If they had cut like ten minutes from this part of the film, it would have fixed the problem.
This documentary is very well-made, is lots of fun to watch, and brings to light a very serious and worthy cause. I think this is the kind of film that can actually make an impact in the world, and I would love for it to get a wide release so that its message can reach as many people as possible. Now, am I just saying all of this because they gave me a slave-free chocolate bar when the film was over? Possibly. I’m not above taking bribes. But in all seriousness, this documentary is very important and well done, and I sincerely hope they are able to make an impact on the world.