At Saturday’s Film Independent Spirit Awards ceremony Julia Reichert mentioned “income inequality” during her best documentary acceptance speech for American Factory. The first film released by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions, American Factory is about a Chinese capitalist who reopens a closed plant in Ohio, employing thousands of American workers.
During the press conference in the Spirit Awards’ media tent at Santa Monica beach I asked Reichert, who’d previously been Oscar-nominated for the 1976 and 1983 documentaries Union Maids and Seeing Red: “Do you think socialism is the answer to income inequality?” Reichert asked how many people had viewed Seeing Red, which was about Communist Party USA members, and laughed as I appeared to be the only member of the media there to have seen it.
Reichert, who was standing next to her American Factory co-director Steven Bognar, went on to tell me that: “I go back a long way. I was before Bernie Sanders. I go back to the sixties — I’m old. Do I think socialism is the answer for our country? We should all . . . share the wealth. We should tax rich people more than they are. Health care should be for all. It’s more like what I would call ‘democratic socialism feminism.’ And that’s what I’ve always been about. And nobody ever asks me that anymore,” she mused.
“You know, it’s funny, the things that we used to believe in in the late sixties and early seventies, we used to talk about ‘socialist feminism’ and ‘democratic socialism’ and ‘worker power.’ And then right through the Reagan years and all after that, nobody talked about that anymore. And now we’re talking about it again. This is good,” she continued.
Reichert had been a member of the New American Movement, one of the two groups that merged to form the Democratic Socialists of America in 1983.
The following night the three-time Oscar nominee finally got a chance to make an Academy Awards acceptance speech when American Factory won for best documentary feature. During it Reichert quoted Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s The Communist Manifesto, proclaiming on live television: “Working people have it harder and harder these days — and we believe that things will get better when ‘workers of the world unite!’”
In Reichert’s documentary, Cao Dewang, a billionaire from China, acquires an Ohio factory General Motors shuttered in 2008 and reopens it as Fuyao Glass America.
Cao hires two thousand US employees amid fanfare about the investment. But as the company struggled to turn a profit, working conditions deteriorated amid speedups and wages were kept so low that it fueled an extensive unionization effort.
That effort is fought off successfully by the company, which hired anti-union consultants and threatened to shutter production.
Reichert’s next film, like American Factory also co-directed with Steven Bognar, 9to5: The Story of a Movement, tells the story of a group of Boston female office workers who organized in the early 1970s. It will be released in May.