‘Why aren’t we earning enough to live?’ – how The Divide lays bare global inequality
Janet, a Walmart shop assistant in Louisiana, is so visibly stressed by working in a very understaffed store that a customer tells her she looks as if she’s going have a heart attack. Rochelle, a care worker in Newcastle, is miserable that her hours are so long that she can’t get home to put her children to bed. She also wishes she was better paid so that she didn’t owe £4,000 in catalogue bills, from buying clothes and shoes on credit for her children. Leah, a KFC worker from Richmond, Virginia, works six days a week, but is still behind on her rent and juggles calls from debt-recovery companies. Everyone in Katharine Round’s new documentary, The Divide, is struggling, trying to improve their lives; everyone is feeling the pressure. This is the reality of a low-wage existence in two of the world’s most unequal economies. Based on The Spirit Level, the 2009 bestselling book studying global inequality, the film highlights the toxic effects of divided communities on everyone who lives in them. Even the wealthy are scrabbling to stay happy.
We meet Wall Street psychologist Alden, who wants to get ahead and join the top 1% of earners, and who is working so hard to save up to move his family into a gated community that he gets home too late for story time with his daughters. When he has back surgery, he can’t afford to convalesce, and is in his office the next morning.
The Divide is the reality of a low-wage existence in two of the world’s most unequal economies.
When The Spirit Level was published, it quickly attracted global attention to the ideas of its authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. It argued that income inequality is the key cause of most modern social ills – violence, obesity, drug abuse, depression, teenage pregnancies, ill health. Ed Miliband quoted the book in a piece for the New Statesman, David Cameron referred to it in his Big Society addresses, Michael Gove said it was a “fantastic analysis”. It was the most talked-about political book of the year, but also a very dense volume that analysed vast international data sets. No one said: “This would make a great movie!”The finished film gives moving portraits of the lives of seven people.
Apart from Round. “It was a totally mad idea to get a book of graphs and make it into a feature film,” she concedes, acknowledging moments of doubt over the years spent researching and raising money for a documentary based on a book that sweeps through 27 different countries and grapples with huge, abstract concepts of capitalism, globalisation and inequality. She persisted, raising more than £120,000 of the total budget, from a successful crowdfunding exercise.
The finished film gives moving portraits of the lives of seven people, five in the US and two in the UK, illustrating how economic division creates another division socially, with dangerous consequences for everyone. Its scope is ambitious, looking back over 35 years at the political and economic decisions that have caused the widening divide. The film races from person to person, from one side of the Atlantic to the other, giving sharp snapshots of the problems people encounter as they scrape along in economically divided nations. The documentary attempts to answer the teasing question in the film’s subtitle: “What happens when the rich get richer?”
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