Oscar-Nominated Films Pay Tribute to Working People

by Kate Childs Graham  |  February 22, 2013

Oscar-Nominated Films Pay Tribute to Working People

As she accepted the Screen Actors Guild award for best supporting actress, Anne Hathaway said, “I’m just so glad I have dental.” While many mistook this for an offbeat remark, union members knew she was making a nod to her union, SAG-AFTRA. Hathaway has been a card-carrying member for more than 15 years.

Hathaway has also been nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Fantine in Les Miserables, one of several Oscar-nominated films that pay tribute to public service, social justice and working people.

Les Miserables, which has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, shows a country in the midst of violent class struggle. Following the death of General Jean Maximilien Lamarque – the only government official sympathetic to the struggles of the poor – a group of students organize a noble but ill-fated revolution. As they head into battle, the revolutionaries sing of solidarity.

Argo pays homage to members of the American Foreign Service Association as well as members of the Producers Guild of America. It tells the story of six Foreign Service workers who escape the Iranian hostage crisis, only to be indefinitely hidden in the Canadian Embassy. To get them out, CIA agent Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, creates a cover story that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers, scouting locations in Iran for a sci-fi film. Mendez gets help from film producer Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin.

Perhaps the best look at the importance of public service in a 2013 Oscar-nominated film is in The Longest Daycare. In this animated short, Marge of The Simpsons fame drops baby daughter Maggie off at the Ayn Rand School for Tots. After going through a complex security check, a guard carries Maggie past the "Room for Gifted Babies" and puts her in the "Nothing Special" bleak corner instead. The daycare is the epitome of what the ideology of Ayn Rand – the Tea Party literary heroine who railed against public service and called the recipients of public services “moochers” – would breed. Those who seek to privatize child care services should take note.

Certainly, there were a few stand-out films about working families that didn’t make the Oscar-cut this year. We Are Wisconsin chronicles the lives and experiences of six people, including AFSCME Local 2436 member Rachel Friedman, who joined the protests against Gov. Scott Walker.

Another great film is Trash Dance, which tells the story of employees of the City of Austin’s Department of Solid Waste – all members of AFSCME Local 1624 – who put together an extraordinary dance spectacle featuring 16 garbage trucks and 24 sanitation workers.

Have another “should-be-nominated” film featuring union members? Tweet it to us using #unionfilms.

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