October 24 — October 31
“Inequality For All”
|Sat & Sun||2:00||5:00||7:00|
Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.
Though diminutive in physical height (at just under five feet), Robert Reich is a veritable giant in terms of influence, experience, and reputation in the complex world of political economics. A former Secretary of Labor, Reich combined uncompromising intelligence and sensitivity to the plight of the oppressed when he served under President Clinton—but wasn’t afraid to make some scathing criticisms of his former boss in his book Locked in the Cabinet. Reich is still the epitome of the “tough-minded liberal,” a term (like “compassionate conservative”) that some sneeringly call an oxymoron. Love him or loathe him, even Reich’s enemies acknowledge that he’s fearless, willing to say in public what many dare not—he was one of the first economists to declare (early in the first term of President Obama, whom Reich endorsed) that the United States was in a depression (not a recession, the more popular, politically-cautious term favored by most politicos of either party). Reich is liberal and proud of it, but he’ll also say things that many Democrats don’t want said, especially those who are barely hanging onto their political lives by assuming a moderate, conciliatory position. Reich upsets a lot of people, but not like a Glen Beck or Ann Coulter: it’s not his rhetoric that’s inflammatory; it’s his insistence on injecting reason into economic discourse. The widening gap between the poorest and wealthiest Americans—and the migration of increasing numbers of the “middle class” toward poverty instead of wealth—is a long-standing theme of Reich’s ideas on how to fix the economy. Even acknowledging there is a class divide can get someone branded a “socialist” (which a new generation of young people is being taught is a dirty word without any understanding of what it means). So Reich has an uphill struggle to persuade many people just by starting with this premise. And suggesting that it would be a good thing for the United States if our wealth gap weren’t so pronounced is enough to make a lot of people demand he be deported (or worse). For focusing on this divisive figure and providing a cinematic platform for his views, director Jacob Kornbluth is courting controversy himself—yet his documentary about Reich, Inequality for All, is never shrill, confrontational, or defensive. Reich’s greatest attribute as a liberal spokesperson is his innate concern for people—this can’t be faked, and the medium of film really exposes people who pretend to care but just want praise and accolades for their “humanist” views. Reich is the real deal. He believes his ideas will improve not just the lives of some Americans, but the lives of all Americans—by strengthening our weakened economy, increasing employment, and in the long term, reducing the need for government assistance. Reich believes in fixing the economy by restoring its “human capital”—investing in the country’s greatest asset, which is its people, its workers. At the core, this is not a concept that should offend either conservatives or liberals. Kornbluth doesn’t simply put Reich in front of a camera to explain his theories; the film shows Reich interviewing many of the Americans that mainstream media has forgotten: the working poor. But he also talks to wealthy CEO’s and shows them as equally concerned, not-unsympathetic individuals—rather than the smug, clueless villains that others (such as Michael Moore or The Daily Show) have trotted out for our appalled and amused disbelief. Reich’s point is that lifting the poorest Americans out of poverty is ultimately good for the entire country and is not diametrically opposed to the principles of capitalism or the free market. This fascinating, inherently optimistic documentary is also wise not to present the mere fact of economic inequality as groundbreaking news. Yes, it does stagger the imagination to really contemplate that the richest 400 Americans possess as much combined wealth as the average 150 million Americans. But the real point is that the income gap is not caused by recession (as many media outlets tell us), but the other way around—the economic slump was caused by the income gap. This is heresy in many circles, but Reich and Kornbluth provide facts and statistical evidence to make a compelling case. Serving under three presidents (Ford, Carter, Clinton) has provided Reich enough experience to give him a pass: his opinions definitely have more weight than most of his critics’—but the film doesn’t rely on Reich’s reputation alone, nor his intelligent, articulate, persuasive charm to solidify the message. Most importantly—and what really elevates Inequality for All above other impassioned, often angry (and angering) documentaries—is that there is hope: the economy can recover. Reich isn’t waging a defiant one-man war against the fat cats of Wall Street and Washington; and he isn’t stirring audience emotions without offering any solutions or outlets for our indignation. Inequality for All gives us a different way of looking at the United States and what has made our country great—and how we can still attain the optimistic ideals of our founders—the film’s title is not a satiric jab at the Pledge of Allegiance (“…with liberty and justice for all”) but a reminder of what America can be.
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Seniors/Students with valid ID: $7
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