Friday, February 06, 2009

The documentary Made in L.A.

The good folks at California Newsreel were kind enough to send me a copy of the documentary Made in L.A. Here is the official web site, where you can see all sorts of background info (including numerous awards it has won). You can also buy it at the California Newsreel site. It is an excellent movie.

It documents the efforts of Latina garment workers in Los Angeles to fight for legal working conditions, focusing specifically on clothes made for the retailer Forever 21. They organize with the help of the Garment Worker Center in L.A. As one woman noted as she held up a shirt, the retail price was $13 and she made 19 cents for it. For over three years, they deal with the slow court system in California until they manage to get a settlement (the details of which remain confidential, but there were clear signs of improvement).

There were two things that really stood out for me. One is that the "Made in America" mantra requires deeper reflection. About 95% of Forever 21's clothes are made in the United States, but were (hopefully it is entirely past tense) under sweatshop conditions that treated workers like dirt. We all like to assume that such conditions are found elsewhere, not here. That something was made in America does not guarantee anything.

The other really poignant element is how the film is bittersweet. On the one hand, it is really a triumph. A few women (later, it seems, also joined by men though they did not play a role in the documentary) took on big business and through legal channels forced that business to pay heed. You see pretty amazing courage and sacrifice. You also see a legal system that can rule against the rich and powerful. On the other hand, it was long and exhausting, difficult to keep everyone united, there were arguments, and many feared it was futile. In addition, as Lupe, one of the most vocal organizers, put it, "ignorance somehow protects you." Knowing how the entire process works can make it seem even more difficult to start again with some other company and other workers. In fact, she begins to view the entire problem in global terms (traveling to Hong Kong to join protests) which in a way is even more daunting.


King Politics 2:11 PM  

Thanks for the tip. This sounds like a must-see film.

Anonymous,  3:43 PM  

This is a very good documentary I was able to meet the producers of the film. They came to Charlotte to present the documentary about six months ago. It was really interesting to talk with them about the whole process and how challenging it was to have a project going on for well over 4 years! I invite everyone to see it!

---Daniel V.

Greg Weeks 8:15 AM  

Yikes, I am disappointed I missed that.

sharon 5:26 AM  

thanks for the link...

Entertainment at one stop

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