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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
- "The American Middle Class Is Losing Ground: No longer the majority and falling behind financially." December 9, 2015
- "A Rise in Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93%: An Uneven Recovery, 2009-2011. April 23, 2013
- "America’s Shrinking Middle Class: A Close Look at Changes Within Metropolitan Areas: The middle class lost ground in nearly nine-in-ten U.S. metropolitan areas examined"
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.