Film Screening: Two American Families

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June 24th  screening of Two American Families 




This is a poignant and powerful documentary.  In The New Yorker George Packer wrote that this film “…will take its place among the central documentaries of our time”,  while Brian Lowry in Variety declared that Two American Families  “demands to be seen and discussed". 

The film documents the lives of two Milwaukee working class families from 1992 to 2012.  With compassion and insight, Bill Moyers narrates the film and conducts the inteviews.Their stories are the focus, but Moyers also locates their situation in the  local and national economic context. Their stories are the stories of many millions of  Americans. 

Come watch the film with other Democrats and discuss the issues it raises in our after screening discussion with Professor Peter Kingstone and Dr. Antoine Rogers. 

Film Synopsis 

In 1992 we are introduced to two families, one black and one white, the Stanleys and the Neumans. They had been living comfortably and  felt economically secure with plans and hopes for the future. Their jobs were in manufacturing, were unionized and offered good incomes and benefits.  But their employers moved their operations overseas, and these once-secure jobs are lost.

The Stanleys are a black family of seven, headed by Claude and Jackie.  Formerly employed at a major chassis-making company, Claude takes on a job waterproofing basements which pays half of what he was earning previously and without benefits.  Jackie loses her job at an engine manufacturer.  After much struggle she gets a realtor’s license and tries to sell houses in a declining housing market. 

Claude Stanley is also a preacher, and throughout the film we see how the family is sustained by their religious beliefs. But faith doesn’t pay the bills, which mount further when Claude has an illness that leads to unexpected and costly medical bills.

Tony and Terry Neumann are a white family with three children.  Tony, who used to work for the same manufacturer as Jackie Stanley, gets a factory job, working nights for low wages and hardly ever manages to see his family. Terry, who had been a stay-at-home Mom, takes on a variety of jobs, all of them low-waged and offering no benefits or prospect for advancement.  .

We watch their resouceful struggles to survive. Over the 20 years we encounter them they, remarkably, show fearsome perseverance  and amazing adaptability in undertaking training and new jobs in difficult economic conditions. But the American Dream they all believed in at the beginning continues to elude them.dule 

The Film Night

Venue:  London School of Economic

Time:   7:00 - 9:30. Doors open 6:30

After screening discussion and Q and A session:  will be led by Professor Peter Kingstone and Dr. Antoine Rogers

Peter Kingstone (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley. B.A. Swarthmore) is Professor and Co-Director of the International Development Institute at King's College London. Prior to coming to King's, he taught Political Science at the Universities of Connecticut and Vermont (where he  won the Kroepsch-Maurice Award for Outstanding Teaching). Before getting his Ph.D., he worked in the Canadian government as Parliamentary Advisor to the Honourable Jean Charest, Minister of State (Youth).

He is author of  several books on Latin America, including  Crafting Coalitions for Reform: Business Preferences, Political Institutions and Neoliberal Reform in Brazil , The Political Economy of Latin America: Reflections on Neoliberalism and Development , as well as co-editor  of Democratic Brazil: Actors, Institutions and Processes, Democratic Brazil Revisited  and the Handbook of Latin American Politics. He has published various articles and book chapters on the subject of democratisation and the politics of neoliberal economic reforms.

Alongside his research focus on  Latin America, Professor Kingstone has had a continuing interest in the debates on American political economy and its relation to increasing inequality in the US. He has taught this subject to US undergraduate students for over 10 years. He spoke and led  the Q and As at the Film Night screening of Robert Reich's Inequality for all. 

Dr. Antoine Rogers is an Associate Professor in Sociology at London South Bank University. Antoine is a Chicago native; a qualified social worker and a survivor of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.  The research leading to his PhD was a comparative analysis of urban social service charities in Chicago and Birmingham UK. His work critically reflects on identity and personal experiences as a source of knowledge and understanding. He is especially interested in qualitative research methods and LGBT issues.
His most current research project is with the London Metropolitan Archives and evaluates the role that an inclusive collaborative approach in digital platform design plays in the facilitation of greater virtual and real life engagement with cultural archives among members of marginalized communities. Antoine’s most recent publication is an edited collection (2015) Sexuality, citizenship and belonging: trans/national and intersectional perspectives. He also wrote Crossing Deep Waters: Transatlantic Reflections Black Gay Men and Journeys influenced by ‘In The Life’ as part of the edited collection from Stephens and Fullwood (2015) Black Genius: Joseph Beam and In the Life. Antoine is diligently working on his first solo book, The Evidence of Existence which explores the intersection of race, sexuality and national identity. He spoke and led the Q and As after the Film Night screening of Streetfight.

Followup:  What happened to the Two American Families? - this link will be corrected!

Two months after the filming ended Terry Neuman was asked why she took part  and she said, “I hope the film will make a difference. That people will stop sniping at one another and get together and come up with something that works for all people…I wish I could have a beer with President Obama and make him see what’s happening.” 

More about Milwaukee

Desmond, Matthew. Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in the American City. 2016       

An excellent review by Danny Dorling in The Guardian (March 7, 2016) quotes Desmond's conclusion: 

“This degree of inequality, this withdrawal of opportunity, this cold denial of basic needs, this endorsement of pointless suffering – by no American value is this situation justified. No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”

Dale, Daniel. "Back in time: America's most segregated city." The Star. January 25, 2016

Gauber, Bill and Crowe, Kevin. "Poverty keeps tight grip on Milwaukee, new census figures show." Journal Sentinel, September 16, 2016 

Rohde, David. "Free-Falling in Milwaukee: A Close-Up on One City's Middle-Class Decline" The Atlantic. December 16, 2011

Romell, Rick. "Low-wage jobs grew fastest in Wisconsin since 2000, new study says.Journal Sentinel, October 28 2014. 


Film Reviews 

Brockes, Emma. (2013, July 11). "We went backwards": Two American Families, one broken American Dream.  The Guardian.  

    "Anyone with doubts as to the ongoing resourcefulness of ordinary Americans should watch the Frontline documentary Two American Families."

Lowry, Brian. ( 2013, July 5 ).  Review: ‘"Two American Families" . Variety. 

Packer, George.  (2013, July 1). The Fall of the American Worker. The New Yorker. 

    "... the intellectually honest response to this film is much less comforting, for the overwhelming impression in “Two American Families” is not of mistakes but of fierce persistence: how hard the Stanleys and     Neumanns work, how much they believe in playing by the rules, how remarkable the cohesion of the Stanley family is, how tough Terry Neumann has to become". 

On the issues: further resources  - will be added

Democratic Party resources

President Obama. The 2016 Economic Report of the President. February 22, 2016 

Democratic Party Presidential Candidates: from their official campaign websites 

Hillary Clinton. A plan to raise American incomes

Bernie Sanders. Income and Wealth Inequality


Robert Reich.   Go to his website and get access to a wide range of writings and videos, follow him on Twitter and get access to a range of writings and videos.

Paul Krugman  Go to his blog and follow him on Twitter

Overviews: on the issues of trends in inequality

On the Equality of Opportunity Project website are papers analyzing the trends in inter-generational social mobility over time and according to geographical location.  They also compare the USA patterns with other developed societies. 

Even Wikipedia can provide some good overviews, e.g. "Income Inequality in the United States"

Overviews:  the hollowing out of the US middle class

Chen, Victor Tan. All Hollowed Out: The lonely poverty of America’s white working class. The Atlantic. June 16, 2016. 


The Pew Research Center offers a number of good overviews:


Domhoff, William Who Rules America. 




Disclaimer: The screening of this film does not constitute an endorsement or promotion of the film, nor of any views expressed therein or any association with The Film Committee, DAUK, Democrats Abroad or the Democratic Party. Screenings are solely conceived as educational activities: offering an opportunity for members to discuss issues.

Links to other organizations or publications imply neither endorsement of their policies nor any association with the Democratic Party or Democrats Abroad - UK.