Sweet Micky For President is one of the most unlikely stories ever captured on film. It revolves around the 2011 Haitian presidential elections and the controversial candidacy of the Haitian pop star known as ‘Sweet Micky’ (Michel Martelly), whose bawdy performances include things like diapers and cross-dressing. Underlying the film is the fractious and complex relationship between the two former Fugees, Pras and Wyclef Jean.
Sweet Micky For President is filled with unexpected plot twists tied to shifting political winds after Martelly throws his hat in the ring, including Wyclef’s own presidential candidacy. At the heart of this impressive and improbable film is the demure Pras; who somehow had the temerity to suggest that his politically-inexperienced and eccentric musician friend Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly should run for Haiti’s highest office.
A CONVERSATION WITH PRODUCERS PRAS MICHEL AND KARYN RACHTMAN, AND DIRECTOR/PRODUCER BEN PATTERSON
Q: Pras, what is your connection to Haiti?
Pras: I am a Haitian American. My family is from Haiti. Haiti is my life blood.
Q: How did you feel in the months following the 2010 earthquake?
Pras; Messed up. Powerless. I realized – all of those people, displaced, their lives destroyed – that could’ve been me. I felt like I had to do something to help, but I didn’t know what. I was upset with the media – the way they made us look like a charity case, but another part of me felt upset at the Haitian government too – they weren’t really being responsible. After 9/11, Mayor Guliani, George Bush, they stepped up to the plate. When disasters call you need someone to step up to the plate to lead, and we didn’t have it. It was so clear the country needed new leadership. There was no true leadership for the people with the sitting President.
Q: Why did you think Sweet Micky was the person to lead Haiti? Or that he could?
Pras: The people of Haiti needed a change, something drastic. I knew in my gut he was the one who could make that change.
Q: What was the genesis of the documentary?
Ben: I met Pras shortly after the earthquake. He was frustrated and angry about the lack of leadership, the corruption and how Haiti was being depicted in the media. He invited me to come down to Haiti with him to see what was really happening there in the aftermath of the earthquake, maybe shoot some of it.
Karyn: They knew they wanted to work together. It first started off as the earthquake, but that got shut down instantly because there was no way to get into Haiti.
Pras: All of the airlines were suspended, but if you could sneak in you also realized the whole planet is down there doing something, so what are we gonna shoot?
Ben: Months later Pras casually mentioned the upcoming election and some friend he was going to convince to run. When he told me the guy’s name Michel Martelly I did a Google search and one of the first things that popped up was this YouTube video of this crazy dude, performing in what looked like diapers, who called himself Sweet Micky. I asked Pras if that’s who he was talking about, and Pras clarified that Sweet Micky was Michel Martelly’s stage persona, and that he would be the next president of Haiti, despite never having been a politician, having no political party or backing. It was really just the two of them.
Q: What did you think of Pras’s plan?
Ben: I thought Pras was crazy but maybe also that he’s a genius, and that it could be a great story. Pras has the “much madness is divinest sense” sort of perspective. I wanted to understand what was behind it.
Q: So when did you realize this was going to be a documentary?
Ben: I was always looking for the documentary. But it wasn’t until I saw Michel and Pras interact…that’s when I knew I had something special. The story wrote itself – we just never knew what to expect in the end.
Pras: I didn’t even know Ben’s plans for making the movie when we were announcing the candidacy in Montreal. I was purely focused on the campaign and getting Michel’s name into the international realm. Ben was just shooting and somewhere in the back of his mind I guess he felt like there was a story here. He just captured everything. I remember saying to myself, and even to Michel, “What the hell is he doing? Why does he have a camera with him?”
Q: Why did you start the campaign in Canada of all places?
Pras: It was a strategic move. 1st – the diaspora in Canada is very active politically. Probably more so than the American diaspora, because they are French speaking and Haitian Creole is more French than English. 2nd – the diaspora has a heavy influence on their families back home, even if they are not able to vote. If you leave your country and go to America or Canada, back home they think you’ve prospered. Something like 20% of Haiti’s GDP comes from money sent home from the diaspora; without the diaspora Haiti would not be able to survive. We knew, if people in the diaspora take Michel seriously – which the Haitians in Haiti didn’t at that point as a politician – we knew they’d take a second look at Michel as a candidate.
Karyn: They knew reaching the Haitian people would be difficult, and it was either the dumbest idea or the most genius idea to try to reach them through Canada first.
Q: Along the way you encountered a lot of incredible obstacles. Did you ever think about giving up?
Pras: Never. When I believe in something I go for it all the way. Sweet Micky is so revered and loved amongst the Haitian people, I knew he was truly the only person that could inspire the younger generation to get out and vote. I refused to entertain the idea that he wasn’t going to win.
Q: What other obstacles, if any, that didn’t show up on on-screen did you encounter during filming?
Ben: It took a lot of patience. There was a lot of waiting around and then suddenly you were on a full sprint. In Haiti, there was nothing that we could predict so we had to be ready to capture the moments as they happened, not knowing if one thing or the other was of any significance. I really learned to trust my intuition, embrace the ambiguity and have patience.
Pras: It was exhausting, psychologically and physically exhausting. For me, with the election, you’re taking on something that seems…it’s not impossible, but it seems very improbable – this guy becoming the next president. It’s a lot of pressure. Our biggest obstacle, at least for me, was the unlikelihood of “diaper man” becoming head of state. The pressure becomes – is he gonna win? Every day the sequence of events was changing, the players were changing, someone that was the opposition is now part of the team. For me it was more psychological.
Karyn: There are just so many obstacles when you don’t have a full feature film budget. We had to find so much archival – the footage, the photos, the music. It was ridiculous! I still can’t believe we got it all together. Even licensing the Fugees songs was not easy.
Q: Talk about the tone of the film.
Ben: Well, it’s a unique true film about a guy who wrote music, performed in diapers, and who, backed by an American rapper, is running for the highest office with no experience, has the oddest reputation, and if he wins will be in charge of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after an earthquake that devastated the capital, collapsed the national palace…. As Pras said, “You can’t write this shit.” It was an amazing, life changing adventure. Everything the camera saw was just what I was seeing for the first time, revealing the epic beauty and explosive human drama that is Haiti. In filming and in the edit we wanted to make it an exciting journey, immensely sad and also immensely comedic, and as true to life as this story could be.
Q: What are some of your favorite memories from production?
Ben: The scenes we shot during the rallies were really intense and surreal. They were really chaotic, full of excited Haitians filled with so much hope. It was amazing to be a part of that. When we were shooting in big crowds like that, it was very difficult to shoot and walk so we worked out a strategy with the lead security guys to grab whoever was shooting by their shirt and hold us up so we wouldn’t fall.
Pras: I remember feeling a relief when they announced he was actually going to the second round. Prior to that they had never overturned a ruling before. Can you imagine how audacious we were to think they were going to turn it around, when they’d never done it before? That’s when it was like, man this things really happening.
Ben: I also remember at one point during filming we lost access because Pras was essentially kicked out of the campaign. We were screwed. So we made a deal with Michel’s campaign manger to shoot some political spots in exchange for access and a place to stay. That’s how we worked our way back in.
Karyn: Having the opportunity to show the movie to the people in Haiti. It was a perfect mix of Martelly supporters and the other side. All of them loved it. It was very moving.
Q: The soundtrack plays such strong role in the film – how did you choose the music?
Karyn: Obviously the music is integral to the story because it is a story about musicians – Pras, Wyclef, Sweet Micky. We wanted to highlight each artist’s music, which helps to get our story across. Their music shows a big part of who they are and what they are about.
Pras: For Haitians, music is the backdrop of our lives. In Haiti, all they talk about is politics and music. There are no movie theatres, most people don’t have Internet or computer games or even television, but you can always see a band play in the street. There will always be KOMPA music blaring from the radios. The music had to reflect the culture of Haiti.
Q: Why is this film important?
Ben: Our film hits on so many levels. It’s entertaining, very sad in places, it has humor…but it’s really about the human spirit and the last guy in line who, for some reason, steps up to make a difference. At its core it is a story that can be found in the history of every culture on the planet. It’s all of our stories.
Karyn: It shows the incredible resilience of the Haitian people for over 200 years. It captures their spirit.
Pras: It’s important for so many reasons. For me, it’s important because the Haitian people are not portrayed as victims. They will see the film and think, “They are celebrating us.” It’s not about Haiti being the poorest country or the most corrupt. It’s entertainment. Something for them to be proud of.
Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
Karyn: That they know more about Haiti – the people, its politics and culture. But basically the most important message is ALL IS POSSIBLE.
Pras: It’s a story about not giving up and perseverance. It’s the human experience – a group of people who are resilient and face so many obstacles. There’s a saying, “it’s always darkest before dawn.” Believing that your best is right around the corner – that’s a powerful thing.
Ben: It’s an incredibly entertaining ride through an improbable and timeless true story. The stakes are immense. It’s loaded with hilarious moments. The soundtrack is rocking. The characters are unforgettable. Beyond that, it’s an important story about the fight for democracy and how artists can change the world. It’s not an issue movie; it’s an adventure, an experience. I hope audiences will love it.
Slamdance Jury Award for Documentary Feature
Slamdance Audience Award for Documentary Feature
The Hollywood Reporter: Pras-Produced Doc Details Quest to Get a Diaper-Wearing Pop Star Elected President of Haiti
Florida National News: Pras Shifts Haitian and Documentary Paradigm with ‘Sweet Micky for President’
MovieMaker Magazine: Top Pick of Sundance & Slamdance
Moveable Feast: Slamdace ’15 Interview: Karyn Rachtman On Joining The Campaign For “Sweet Micky for President”
Miami New Times: Fugees’ Pras on Sweet Micky for President Movie: “My Way of Being a Revolutionary”
New York Times: Haitian Leader’s Power Grows as Scandals Swirl
*March 16th front page story on President Martelly
The Hollywood Reporter: Sweet Micky For President: Slamdance Review
Indiewire: From raunchy pop star to head of state in ‘Sweet Micky for President’
CBS Radio Atlanta: Pras Michel Recounts + Affects Haitian History In ‘Sweet Micky For President’
Cleveland.com: Music, politics and former Fugees clash in Haiti: Cleveland International Film Festival 2015
Cinemacy: Sweet Micky for President Review
KEY SUBJECT BIOS
Outspoken Haitian artist, businessman and budding statesman whose musician alter ego, ‘Sweet Micky’ is a wildly-popular, oft-times controversial pop musician and inspiration for an unprecedented populist run for the island nation’s presidency.
Multi Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn native of Haitian descent and founding member of music group, “The Fugees.” Early-on confidant and supporter of Martelly’s Presidential run.
Estranged bandmate of Pras and multi-award-winning member of “The Fugees” who, like Martelly, attempts a populist-fueled and controversial run for the Haitian presidency.
With special appearances by Sean Penn, Ben Stiller, Noam Chomsky and many more.
HAITIANS IN AMERICA
Population living in US that identify as Haitian or Haitian American: Over 6 million
US states with largest Haitian populations: Florida, followed by New York and Massachusetts.
Remittances sent annually to Haiti: Over $2 billion
TO HELP IN HAITI
ARTISTS FOR HAITI – www.artistsforhaiti.org
ARTISTS FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE – www.apjnow.org
JP/HRO – www.jphro.org
*According to the Corruption Perceptions Index; in 2006, Haiti ranked 1st.
**Haiti’s GDP is approximately $13 billion.
***According to the World Bank as of 2004.
1804 – Haiti becomes the second sovereign nation in Western hemisphere after the United States. For the next 186 years, Haiti is run by dictators and quasi-elected “presidents for life.”
1990 – Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a beloved populist leader, wins what the international community deems Haiti’s first free democratic election. Aristide’s radical policies and the violence of his bands of supporters alarm the country’s elite.
1991 – Aristide is ousted in a military coup and flees the country into exile.
1994 – After three years of violent military rule, Bill Clinton dispatches a negotiating team to Haiti and Aristide is permitted to return, while U.S. troops stay in Haiti to maintain order.
1995 – For the first time in its history there is a transition between two democratically elected presidents when Rene Preval, a member of Aristide’s coalition, wins the election.
2000 – Aristide forms a new political party. His opposition boycotts the election and he is re-elected president with more than 90% of the vote.
2004 – Amidst violent protests and threat of a coup, President Aristide leaves Haiti escorted by American diplomats. Aristide later claims he was kidnapped.
2006 – Rene Preval is elected president of Haiti for a second time.
January 12, 2010 – Magnitude 7.0 earthquake hits Haiti.
August 2010 – Pras and Michel announce Michel Martelly’s campaign for the Haitian presidency in Montreal, Canada.
August, 2010 – Wyclef Jean announces his campaign for the presidency.
November, 2010 – First round elections are held.
December, 2010 – First round results are announced. Protests cause officials to postpone the second round elections.
March, 2011 – Second round elections are held.
April, 2011 – The next President of Haiti is officially declared.
January 12, 2015 – 5 Year anniversary of the earthquake.
November, 2015 – The next presidential elections are scheduled to occur.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Pras Michel rose to international super-stardom as a member of the multi-platinum Grammy-winning group “The Fugees.” As a solo artist, he is most known for writing and producing the Grammy-nominated, worldwide top ten hit “Ghetto Supastar” feat. Ol’Dirty Bastard and Mya.
The Fugees stepped onto the music scene with a hip hop sound mixed with a Caribbean beat. A reflection of Pras’ identity — a Haitian American, born in Brooklyn, raised in New Jersey.
After his Fugees fame, Pras continued to work not only as a performer and producer in music and film, but also as a successful business man. He is a managing partner of the private equity fund DuSable Capital Management. Pras is also very active in politics; partnered with Frank White Jr., they are the leading fundraisers for President Obama.
Pras continues his work in music, and his new band Get Fr3e releases their first album in 2015. Their song “Came to Win” was an original written for SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT.
Shortly after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Ben Patterson connected and began collaborating with Pras Michel on SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT, Ben’s first feature film. What was initially meant to document the post-earthquake recovery, soon became a whirlwind introduction to the world of international politics. Ben has always wanted to make a feature film, and was immediately drawn to the story of an unlikely candidate’s run for President of Haiti, how artists can change the world, and what it takes to elect a leader. Ben is excited for this timeless, “lighting in a bottle” story to be in the world.
He is the founder of Onslot Creative, a New York City based production company, where he creates, produces and directs visual content for many high-profile brands and artists.
Karyn Rachtman is best known as Music Supervisor and/or Producer on the Soundtrack Albums for some of the most critically acclaimed films of our time including PULP FICTION, RESEVOIR DOGS, REALITY BITES, BOOGIE NIGHTS, CLUELESS, BULWORTH, Baz Lurhman’s ROMEO & JULIET, MOULIN ROUGE and OFFICE SPACE, to name a few. The films she has served as music supervisor and/or executive soundtrack producer for have collectively sold more than 40 million copies in the United States alone.
While working at Interscope as Head of Soundtracks, Karyn had the opportunity to work with Pras Michel on the song “Ghetto Supastar” for the BULWORTH soundtrack. She and Pras developed a great working relationship and friendship, which eventually led to her coming on as a producer of SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT.
SWEET MICKY is the first film Karyn has produced. She executive produced the film ARCHIE’S FINAL PROJECT, which won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlinale Film Festival.