Haitian-American musician Pras Michel talks about his new documentary, Sweet Micky for President, which chronicles an unconventional presidential election in post-earthquake Haiti.
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You might have heard that Kanye West says he’s going to run for president in 2020. Now, maybe that was tongue-in-cheek, but imagine this – a singer with Kanye’s political edge, George Clinton’s crazy stage presence and Jay Z’s huge following actually running for president. That’s about what you had when a singer known as Sweet Micky ran for president of Haiti five years ago. Few political observers gave him a chance, especially when Haitian-American singer and songwriter Wyclef Jean of Fugees fame got into the race, too. But Haiti, as a new documentary reminds us, has a way of surprising everybody. The film is called “Sweet Micky For President,” and it was produced by and is told by none other than Pras Michel, also a former member of the Fugees, who was a close adviser and supporter of Michel Martelly’s during his campaign. And Pras Michel is with us now. Pras, thanks so much for speaking with us.
PRAS MICHEL: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: At the beginning, why did you support Michel Martelly?
MICHEL: Well, first, you know, I knew how popular he was in Haiti. And I knew he was very conscious about, you know, what was going on in Haiti throughout his years as an artist. And so when you’re talking about politics – although we’re not politicians, as artists – but politics by definition is really the struggle for power and the allocation of resources. So because he was so popular that we thought well, maybe what people were a little bit tired of the status quo, that if this Michel Martelly comes in, he can bring, you know, all the parties and all – and everyone together for a better Haiti.
MARTIN: The film also makes the point – and again, you don’t sugarcoat this at all – that one of the impediments as he started putting his campaign together was his stage persona. I just want to play a short clip from the film, where he’s campaigning and actually doing an international tour with some of the expatriate community. And he’s in Canada, and he’s asked about this.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY FILM, “SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT”)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I read on the Internet that you used to wear a kilt, diapers or sometimes go naked when you were performing.
MICHEL MARTELLY: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Are you going to do that when you’re (unintelligible)?
MARTELLY: That’s the artist; that’s the actor. And you need to separate the actor from the person itself. And after the show, when I went home, Michel Martelly went home, not the guy with the diaper.
MICHEL: I mean, you know, that’s – obviously, that’s what people knew him of, right? So the challenge was to try to, like, get people to understand he’s making a transition from Sweet Micky to Michel Martelly, the candidate. And so that was one of the things we’re working at. So, you know, behind the scenes, I had to tell him to stop, you know, his tour. He was doing a little tour while he was campaigning. And I was like, Michel, look, you’ve got to stop that, you know, if you want people to take you seriously. You can’t be doing shows on the weekend and then campaigning on the weekdays, you know? So it was just reining all of that back and just kind of, like really presenting him to the diaspora and the international community that this guy really took it seriously.
MARTIN: Well, the film does make the case that he did take campaigning seriously. I mean, he put on a suit. He really thought about – I mean, he actually put a grassroots coalition together. And then a moment comes when the situation gets more complicated for you when you got a phone call. And I’ll just play that short clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY FILM, “SWEET MICKY FOR PRESIDENT”)
MICHEL: So the middle of our meeting, I get a text message from someone. Yo, you know who else is running for president? I’m like president – who, what, who? As I’m trying to figure it out, that BBM comes back. It’s your boy Wyclef. So I go to Michel – I say Michel, I think Clef is running for president.
WYCLEF JEAN: (Singing) Wyclef for president.
MICHEL: The most popular international Haitian superstar.
JEAN: (Singing) If I was president.
MICHEL: He’s playing for Oprah; he was running for president.
MARTIN: Yes, it was (laughter). So what was that about? I must say, we watched that very closely from here. And when many people found out that you had already – were busy with a campaign, you were already supporting somebody else – a lot of people went, like, what’s going on? What was that all about, do you think – and the fact that you all never seemed to have talked about it?
MICHEL: Well, I never thought, you know, Wyclef would be running for president. So obviously when I talked to Michel – this was back in February of 2010, so that’s, like, basically a month after the earthquake. And we were just working for months before the registration was in August of 2010. So, you know, when I found out Clef was running I felt, like, a little blindsided. But I mean, he’s a grown man, right? It’s a free country. He can do whatever he wants, but we never communicated. So at that point, I was already deep in with Michel. Plus, I didn’t really think that Wyclef would’ve made a good president anyway.
MARTIN: How come?
MICHEL: Well, I think there’s certain basic things that, you know, you have to have if you’re going to run present for president. First, you’ve got to be able to speak the language of the country. You know, Wyclef don’t speak French, and his Creole is OK. You know, so that fundamentally doesn’t make any sense, aside from a bunch of other things. You know, I just think it was too early for Clef. If he wanted to, I think he needed a good 20 more years to really get with the people in Haiti, start to understand the lay of the land, get more politically involved. Now, some might make the argument well, Michel wasn’t politically involved. He wasn’t passing legislation – true – but Michel was from the country, born and raised, been amongst the people. So he was a little bit more involved than I would say Clef was. Clef technically is an American, who just happened to have been born in Haiti.
MARTIN: How do you think that President Martelly has done now that his five-year term is coming to a close?
MICHEL: I think he was OK. It wasn’t what I wished it would’ve been, you know? And I know – listen, Haiti’s a tough place. It’s a very challenging place. Look, if Abraham Lincoln came from the dead and Winston Churchill, they would have a hard time down in Haiti. You know, it’s just a very tough place. And what I realized also places like Haiti, you have to really – I think the individual has to really put themselves to the side and devote their whole life into making this place become a progressive place, right? So Michel coming in for four years, obviously, he couldn’t accomplish that. Now, I wasn’t expecting him to make the country the top economy in the Western Hemisphere in four years or all of a sudden this massive infrastructure or there’s a comprehensive health care. But I think he could’ve done a lot more, and that’s where, you know, a lot of us who supported Michel just feel a little bit disappointed.
MARTIN: I can hear that. I hear that you feel disappointed. Why did you want to make this film?
MICHEL: Well, I wanted to make this film because it was important for the Haitian people. Sixty-five percent of the population in Haiti are 25 and younger. There’s roughly about 13 to 15 million Haitians. When they see this movie, they’re going to feel proud. And they’re going to say, you know, we’ve seen what Michel did. I’m going to do something better. This time, I’m going to come with a plan. I’m going to come with a solution. And why is it important here? Because it’s a human story. We’ve seen it with the Arab Spring. We’ve seen it with the protests in Iran. We saw the protests in Hong Kong, even in China. We’ve seen protests here. And so it’s the same thing that happened in Haiti. People are making a stark transition from the status quo to an alternative because they feel like we gave the status quo adequate enough time, and it’s not working for us. So we need an alternative, and I think whoever fills that void is who’s becoming that alternative.
MARTIN: I’ve been speaking with Praz Michel about his new film “Sweet Micky For President,” and he joined us from our studios at NPR West. Praz Michel, thanks so much for speaking with us.
MICHEL: Thank you for having me.
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