The Killing Floor Director Bill Duke


Tonight – the 6th of September 2012 – and tomorrow, The Killing Floor (1984), directed by Bill Duke,will be showing at the IU Cinema. The synopsis from the IU Cinema website:


The Killing Floor explores the conflicting loyalties of African-American stockyards workers in Chicago during the First World War. Starring Damon Leake and Moses Gunn, the story pits a black worker who joins an interracial union against his rival who believes that blacks must look after themselves. Based on impeccable historical research into the lives of actual stockyard workers, this powerful docudrama won the Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Award and was invited to Cannes.

The main character in the film is Frank Custer, a real person born into a sharecropping family in Mississippi who moved to Chicago to find work in the meat processing industry (the ‘killing floor’).  Though racial tension marks much of the industry’s dynamics (and is stoked by union busters), Custer befriends a German immigrant, and the two of them seek to build an interracial union.  A whole range of incendiary reactions follow, from almost all quarters.

The Labor Establishment in the United States has a conflicted history of exclusivity (based on race, gender, legal status, and so on) and internal contradictions that are often left out of the narratives put together about the labor movement, both by it supporters and detractors. The Killing Floor cuts through that; the Village Voice called the film a “clear-eyed account of union organizing on film,” while Newsday commented “A classic study in class hate, greed, and stubborn idealism.  You won’t forget it.”

The screening at the IU Cinema is sponsored by Bloomington Jobs with Justice, IU Labor Studies Program, Latino Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Cultural Studies Program, Black Film Center/Archive, Department of History, and IU Cinema.

On a related  note – I’ve been looking for a good film on the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (beyond the scenes in The Great Debaters).  Does anyone know of a good film?  Get in touch with us.

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