A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Hollywood at least offering glimpses of jobs

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Feb. 29, March 1 or 2

After Sunday’s 88th Annual Academy Awards, we can reflect not only on legitimate concerns with movies’ lack of racial diversity, but on the substance the motion-picture industry offered in the last year.

It seems that film studios at least started realizing that Americans have more jobs than police officers and doctors, lawyers and soldiers.

It’s about time.

A disparity in race continues, unfortunately, but there seems to be an increasing appreciation of class, of our being working people. Americans spend most of their lives at their occupations, so seeing Oscar-nominated films such as “The Big Short,” “Brooklyn,” “Joy” and “Spotlight” focusing on the conflicts and settings of financial managers, retail clerks, small-business entrepreneurs and journalists, respectively, reminds us all what some everyday people do every day – and the drama, humor, romance and challenges of work, at work.

“Working people’s lives are a gold mine that [Hollywood’s] failed to fall into,” wrote Patrice O’Neill of public TV’s “We Do the Work.”

“Hollywood has to understand that today it’s missing wonderful stories,” she continued. “It’s missing an audience that seldom sees itself reflected.”

More than 90 percent of Americans self-identify as working class or middle class, the National Opinion Research Center has found over the last 40 years: 45.8 percent say they’re “working class,” and 45.8 percent say they’re “middle class.”

And each of those classes face jobs that can be demanding or dull (or both), bosses who are unreasonable or incompetent (or themselves caught in a different version of the same corporate trap).

In its Golden Age in the 1930s and ’40s, Hollywood understood this.

Since the advent of broadcast television producers began to rely on safer formulas or even remakes and sequels to protect their investments. But occasional movies have shared workplace comedy, romance or drama. Besides memorable movies like “The Big Store” (1941) and “Desk Set” (1957), and “Office Space” (1999) and “Horrible Bosses” (2011), here are 10 decent pictures to catch the next time they’re screened: “9 to 5” (1980), “Clerks” (1994), “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006), “Glengarry Glen Rosss” (1992), “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), “Matewan” (1987), “Modern Times (1936), “Silkwood” (1983), “Waitress” (2007), and “Working Girl” (1988).

However, here are 10 other films – often-overlooked gems – that are worth your seeking out: “Blue Collar” (1978), with Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel as auto workers; “Business as Usual” (1988), starring Glenda Jackson in a tale about a factory shutown and gender harassment; “Employees Entrance” (1933) has Loretta Young as a department store salesgirl threatened by a tyrannical boss; “Fast Workers” (1933) stars Robert Armstrong and John Gilbert as riveters; “Heroes for Sale” (1933), with Richard Barthelmess as a World War I vet coping with drug addiction, joblessness and right-wing vigilantes; “A Matter of Sex” (1984), starring Lee Grant as a woman fighting for pay equity; “The Pajama Game” (1957), with Doris Day as a plant’s union grievance chair; “The Salt of the Earth” (1954), with Will Geer in a story about zinc miners; “Slim” (1937), starring Pat O’Brien and Henry Fonda as linemen; and “10,000 Black Men Named George” (2002), with Andre Braugher as the legendary union organizer A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Yes, once in a while, Hollywood is “on the job” and mirrors the work we all celebrate or suffer all the time. We should enjoy those movies and moments – and demand more.

[PICTURED: Top, Spotlight reporters were portrayed by Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll in this Kerry Hayes photo from Open Road Film. Bottom, Charles S. Dutton, Mario Van Peebles and Andre Braugher in the poster for 10,000 Black Men Named George.]

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