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He has no appetite for easy subjects and it shows. After Invisible, his first series on “microbes”, these street children from Abidjan, Alex Ogou has chosen to focus on cocoa, the country’s main wealth and branded product from the Ivory Coast. On an idea from his producer friend Yolande Bogui, the Franco-Ivorian director and producer took his camera to tell the complex worlds surrounding this fruit which becomes chocolate.
Broadcast from Monday June 15 on Canal + Afrique, the series Cocoa is a twelve-episode saga that takes us into the power, love and money games of two powerful and rival families operating in this sector. Alex Ogou talks about what drove him to make a series on this essential commodity which, far from being just a cash crop, feeds the life and daily life of millions of Ivorians.
Your first series tackled the question of street children, this one delves into the world of cocoa, why this choice?
Alex Ogou Seeing the density of the cocoa ecosystem, I wanted to untangle the threads and tell what is behind this fruit: how thousands of people here work daily so that the rest of the planet can eat chocolate. I wanted to highlight everything that goes on from the cocoa field to the packaging of chocolate. And in particular the absence of local processing, of added value. Thanks to that, I touch on a broader question than cocoa, but which concerns all of Africa: our riches can no longer remain mere objects of contemplation, of culture. Why can’t we get into the transformation gaps where business is done?
Especially since cocoa sometimes gives the impression of being the alpha and omega of life in Ivory Coast …
Here, cocoa is more than just a fruit, more than a commodity. It concerns everyone: between 75% and 80% of Ivorians have a more or less direct link with the world of cocoa. When you have something like that, as a director, you tell yourself that you are touching a popular chord, in the noble sense of the term, a subject that concerns a maximum of people. And around this object, cocoa, there are a thousand universes that revolve and allow stories to be told.
What surprised you the most in the world of cocoa?
What struck me the most was the omerta around him. A bit like talking about drugs, when we are talking about the main wealth of Côte d’Ivoire, a commodity consumed worldwide and which we should not be ashamed of. There are certainly bad people in cocoa, but for how many good people!
The omerta around cocoa comes from the fact that it is a sector where there is big money, and therefore a culture of secrecy which leaves the door open to fantasies. But I, as a director, artist, progressive, I decided to highlight what is positive in there, while questioning this external look that creates omerta. There is the fruit, and the life around this fruit, and all that is told.
Was it easier to talk about the “microbes” on the streets of Abidjan?
When I did Invisible, we did everything to prevent myself from telling this story before I even knew which angle I wanted to dig, which prism I had chosen. The question for me is not the “sensitivity” of the subject, but the way I treat it.
When I take my camera, I glance at a subject, neither accusing nor smug, but faithful to the human being: complex. For me, in this series, cocoa is a decorum, an excuse to talk about relationships between people, love, power, all these things that make the life of the Ivorian city, but are universal. There is a lot of passion around cocoa, and I understand it. Part of the business is rotten at the end. But how many are there to cultivate and work it that deserve to be told their story?