Themed Playlist: Embodying Capitalism and its Abuses

About the lists: Calls to socially distance and self-isolate are  driving people to look for things to watch. But the sheer amount of options out there can be overwhelming. For this reason, we at the Centre for Screen Cultures are producing themed playlists of film, video, and television so you can organise your own series or festival at home (or home school). They will update here and here:


From Leshu Torchin:

With essential workers (those managing supermarket stocking, delivery, sales, etc. for distance) being the least protected and others insisting on a ‘business as usual stance’—as if meeting academic year, fiscal year, or REF submission timetables is paramount, Coronavirus is casting pre-existing inequities and the baffling logics of capitalism into stark relief.


In fact, I have a lot of thoughts about that as this has been the subject of a (slow-to-be-realised) research project, Too Big to See: The Visual Culture of Economic Rights. This came out of my interest in film’s ability to represent human rights abuses and mobilise audiences. I had also noted the particular challenges faced by Economic and Social Rights as opposed to Political and Civil Rights, which more readily fit narrative and iconic paradigms of victims and perpetrators, or bodily violence.


Challenges aside, there are many films seeking to make visible the abstract and ostensibly neutral or objective systems of finance and the ways they did enact violence. I share some of them here for you. This list is not comprehensive; in particular, I’m trying to offer films that are more easily sourced by those at home and those that would be of interest to a wider audience.


Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley, 2018): This brilliant film insists on the centrality of race when presenting systems of capital. It makes absolutely visceral and horrific the operations of remote labour, which renders invisible many of its workings. I’ve written about it for Film Quarterly but I have so much to say about the film that goes beyond the wordcount. Decider offers a list of streaming options:


John and Jane (Ashim Ahluwalla, 2005): This blend of documentary and science fictions explores the lives of six call centre workers in India, showing how capitalism can redraw our physical and temporal worlds, also with deeply lived effects. It makes an excellent pairing with Sorry to Bother You. It is available on Amazon Prime, which, yes, is ironic.


Amor, Mujeres, y Flores/Love, Women, and Flowers (Marta Rodriguez and Jorge Silva, 1988): This is a harder to find film, but an utterly exquisite one about Colombia’s flower export industry and the health effects of the pesticides on the women who work in it. The documentary chronicles these conditions of underdevelopment and the women’s struggles, which are interconnected with the lives of those around them, and thanks to the explorations of this film, mapped out in a broader global economy. Unionisation, as with Sorry to Bother You is part of its story. Ilene S. Goldman has written a great essay about it for the open access journal Jump Cut.


Sleep Dealer (Alex Rivera, 2009): Building on his glorious mockumentary short Why Cybraceros (1997) this science fiction thriller envisions a time when telecommuting and remote labour can be conducted as Mexicans plug into digital factories to operate robots that operate in the U.S. Here, too, we can see how this is not so much imagining a possible future as showing us the sort of activities and abuses that are already happening. Finally available (to Americans only, alas) for download via iTunes.


Ilha das Flores/Island of Flowers (Jorge Furtado, 1989): Possibly the Ur-Film for my research project, this animated documentary short manages to present us with a portrait of global capitalism and its abuses in 13 minutes. Its near-breathless narration combined with a cacophony of images captures the attempts for any human to keep up with the rapidly escalating (il)logic of capitalism. To watch it is to love it. And it’s available on YouTube.


The Other Guys (Adam McKay, 2010): This is perhaps not the one you expected me to choose given Adam McKay’s more famous and more obvious choice, The Big Short (2015), but this one is great fun in the way it applies the buddy cop action genre to a story of financial malfeasance, thereby literally allowing bodily assault and rampant material destruction to be the physical face of the workings of capitalism (or in this case, multi-billionaire Sir David Ershon played by Steve Coogan).


Life and Debt (Stephanie Black, 2001): This examination of the effects of structural adjustment programs in Jamaica (and the ensuing demands for trade liberalisation, privatisation, and deregulation) shows the material effects and links them to the earlier violence of imperialism and colonialism. Written by Jamaica Kincaid, it also draws necessary connections to the tourist industry, showing the ways flows of capital and people are always entwined.


The Yes Men Fix the World (The Yes Men, Kurt Engfehr, Laura Nix 2009) Made free-to-share under a creative commons license this film documents the continued work of the culture jamming duo, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonano. In a series of hoaxes where they pose as officials in a range of roles (entrepreneurs, representatives of existing corporations) they reveal the truth of the violence at the centre of capitalist logic. Their utopian hopes and activist spirit can also provide a tonic when this topic gets us down. I’ll take this moment to offer a link to Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution.


Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008): This beautiful and gutting film offers a deeply human and close up view of a young woman’s financial crisis and struggles. The slowness of the film is a needed counter to the speed of capitalism, which forces us to move past people and their stories, and which often necessitates fast-paced plot-driven films to keep audience attention.


Bamako (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2006): In a courtyard in Bamako, a trial is taking place as African civil society leaders charge the IMF and the World Bank with crimes against humanity and the people of Africa. At the same time, life continues as people engage in their usual activities in this courtyard. These intertwined activities speak to the ways everyday life cannot be disarticulated from the operations of policy, and the trial (with its charge) reminds us that economic abuses are human rights abuses. There’s a lot to say about its genre play too. In particular, watch out for the film within a film, the Western Death in Timbuktu, featuring some well-known figures of cinema.


Gisaengchung/Parasite (Bong Joon-Ho, 2019): You probably thought I forgot this one, but no, I just assume you are familiar with this multiple award-winning film about the Kims, who scheme to become servants of the Parks in a story that lays bare the precarity and inequality and its very material and physical effects.


There are, as I note, so many more films, but I’ll stop here. Or rather, I’ll stop after I link to a video of my talk at MeCCSA 2019 wherein a lay out some of these interests. (Confession: I have not watched it because I will not watch myself if I can help it.)


2 thoughts on “Themed Playlist: Embodying Capitalism and its Abuses”

  1. Money Puzzles ( (Michael Chanan, 2016) addresses the widespread misunderstandings about money and debt to be found in both the media and everyday life, not to mention university economics departments. It questions the illusory qualities of the myriad forms of money in the twenty-first century; the falsehoods and distortions of the economics on which austerity politics is based; the role of debt as a form of control and coercion at international, national and household levels, and what happens when debts become unpayable.


Leave a comment