US citizens who remain uninformed about wealth inequality in this country are doing themselves a disservice, but the complexities of the issue cannot be summarized with a graph showing the growing gap. Inequality for All is a new documentary that leads the viewer through stacks of information regarding what caused the 2008 recession, who has been affected by it and how and why it matters to everyone.
Director Jacob Kornbluth has provided the viewer with scores of crisp animation—like moving infographics—to help underscore the important facts laid out for the audience by narrator and former US labor secretary Robert Reich. With these visuals, Reich makes complex issues easier to grasp and shifts the discussion to empower the audience. Even if one has encountered some of the data before in atomized graphs and short articles, Reich has the context and background to frame it in a way that makes it easier to draw more complete conclusions.
That’s a good thing, because most of what the data reveals about the US economy and the state of the republic is a hard pill to swallow, but Reich and Kornbluth also hit their mark in retaining the humanity behind all of the numbers. To see on screen the contrast between an employed but struggling parent who knows full well that they only have $25 in their checking account and a millionaire who isn’t even sure how many millions they’re pulling in a year is downright disturbing, but also necessary to drive the point home that something must be done
In terms of construction, Inequality is of sound quality, workmanlike and straightforward in a way that will appeal to its target audience—America’s once thriving, now vanishing middle class. There is the usual blend of B-footage and archival film interspersed with interviews with everyday Americans and economists, plus footage from packed lecture halls at Berkeley, where Reich is a professor.
The topic is one of concern for the vast majority of America—even for those who live securely and comfortably in their own spheres but who see crumbling infrastructure, rising desperation and polarization and a general lack of sustainability in how things are developing. Unlike agitprop that addresses topics that are defined along ideological lines—such as gun control and reproductive rights—there can be little argument with the numbers here. However, there is plenty of counter-propaganda from lobbies working in the interest of a few elite for whom no amount of wealth is enough. Films like Inequality for All are a necessary wake up call for some and a condensed and lucid education for others, but for those intransigent sorts who view any mention of “Inequality” as pandering to the poor and slandering the rich, it may fall on deaf ears. One can hope that the “For All” part will sink in, and the argument will shift from blaming and taking sides to a more coherent discussion based on the facts that will reinvigorate the middle class, close the gap, and make the country again a more united state.
Inequality for All is now showing at the Harvard Exit Theatre.