As I write, David Cameron is in the middle of a tax evasion scandal that is surely leaving his position as Prime Minister untenable. I couldn’t have wished for a better time then, to attend a screening for Dartmouth Films new documentary, ‘The Divide,’ a film centred around the question ‘what happens when the rich, get richer?’.
Director Katharine Round has made a hard hitting and emotional documentary, based on the lives of seven people, all striving for a better life in modern day UK and USA where the top 0.1% earn as much wealth as the bottom 90%. The film is inspired by the 2009 best-selling book ‘The Spirit Level’ which explores the connection between inequality and the issues that effect and have an impact on how we live our lives.
There’s Alden, a Wall Street psychologist whose goal is to make it in the top 1% of earners to provide the best opportunities for his young family; Leah, who works six days a week at KFC in Richmond, Virginia, yet she is still struggling to make ends meet and provide for her family; Rochelle, a carer from Newcastle who often does have enough money to pay for her children’s school dinners and other necessities; Janet, who has seen her previous Video business collapse under the threat and emergence of Walmart and now works for the same company that destroyed hers; Jen in Sacramento, California who is shunned by her ‘gated’ neighbours for committing the simplest of social crimes, such as raking her own leaves and Darren, a recovering alcoholic Pollok-based rapper who’s only goal is to stay sober.
These individual stories, mixed with the words of financial experts and the excellent use of archive footage of companies who benefit hugely from the advance in our technology, the bailout of banks and even our Prime Ministers and Presidents, both past and present addressing our financial matters, asks us how can we possibly in this day and age be living in a world where inequality is such a huge problem?
Despite the undeniable humour in the film, I found it difficult to watch at times. The pain that the majority of these people are going through, who struggle to make ends meet despite being hard-working citizens who contribute to ‘the system’ and get nothing back except stress, heartache, and financial distress is so upsetting. It is as if we have completely forgotten to look out for one another and the blame, instead of lying firmly at the doors of the corporations who exploit their workers has in fact shifted to the people who find themselves struggling to pay rent and provide for their loved ones.
Take Rochelle and Alden for example. One is a carer from Newcastle, working in the public sector who works long hours and doesn’t get enough time with her children and barely earns enough to get by. The other is a Wall Street psychologist who again, works long hours and rarely makes it home to put his children to bed, but he’s minted! Obviously, a psychologist is a highly intelligent job that not everyone can do, and it takes years of practice and education to become one. But, at the end of the day, aren’t carers and psychologists doing the same thing? Helping people? Should they therefore not be on a more equal scale of pay?
The social trends explored in this film are just as important as the financial. If you look at Jen’s situation, on the surface it seems lovely. A nice house in a beautiful neighbourhood, actually, if you could draw your ‘dream home’ you probably wouldn’t be that far off. That is until, you realise that everyone in the neighbourhood drives around in done-up golf buggies, and it is once again clear, the importance of having money is very much the residents main concern. Due to their social standing in the neighbourhood, Jen and her family are feeling the negative effects. Her children are looked down upon and struggle to make friends and Jen and her husband confess they know nothing about their neighbours or even talk to them. Why is this? Because they are seen as ‘poor.’ Listening to Jen’s story almost made her idyllic and picturesque neighbourhood look and feel like the prettiest prison you could ever have the misfortune of residing in.
I’m not an economic professor or a politics student, and I always struggled with maths at school, so I don’t feel as qualified to discuss The Divide as some are. But I understand happiness. Surely, if there is one thing that everyone in this world strives for, it’s to be happy. Happiness and money are often linked. How many times have you been told growing up, ‘money can’t buy you happiness… but it helps’?. There is a brilliant quote from one of the financial experts, former Vice President of the Deutsche Bank Alexis Goldstein that sums it up perfectly for me, “There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be comfortable”. Sadly, even comfortable is too far away for some of the subjects of the film. Whatever way you look at this film, all the people involved are struggling. Even Alden. Yes, he is wealthy, but is he happy? No. His last contribution to the film is saying how everything in his life is going perfectly. I don’t see that at all. Is Rochelle happy? No. Is Janet? No. Is Darren? No. Is Jen? No. Is Leah? No. None of them are.
The Divide skilfully rips into this myth that if you work hard, then you will be rewarded. By focusing on these seven people, the film shows you the other, more human side of the repercussions of greed and excessive wealth exacerbated by big corporations that put money ahead of their staff which strikes a resounding chord with the audience. If these members of society represent the majority of people in the Western world who are struggling to even be happy, then surely that tells you that whatever system is in place, is broken.
The Divide is in cinemas from 22nd April and Nationwide 31st May.
To find out more, please visit www.thedividedocumentary.com