A new documentary about economic hardship comes from an unlikely auteur: Congress
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You don’t normally think of members of Congress as filmmakers. But a bipartisan committee focused on inequality has produced what it calls Congress’ first documentary, telling the stories of three American families and their economic struggles. It’ll premiere next week, and is called “Grit and Grace: The Fight for the American Dream.”
Congressman Jim Himes is a fan of Walker Evans, one of the photographers hired by the federal government to document the fallout of the Great Depression. You’ve probably seen some of his gritty, black-and-white photographs of Americans struggling to survive during the dust bowl years.
When you look at those pictures, Himes said, “You just can’t help but feel the full range of human emotions including empathy for the people whose lives were recorded.”
Himes, a Democrat from Connecticut, is chair of the House Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth. When the panel wraps up its work at the end of this year, it’ll write the usual report. But Himes and the committee have also produced “Grit and Grace: The Fight for the American Dream”, a 30-minute film about today’s struggles. Actor Sarah Jessica Parker, who experienced economic hardship as a child, is the narrator.
I got a chance to talk to one of the families profiled in the film. Wendy and Jeremy Cook live in Augusta, West Virginia. They own an antique store named after their 24-year-old twin sons.
“Mystic Boys Antiques … LLC,” said Jeremy Cook.
The twins have autism and can’t talk. The Cooks needed to be home to provide constant care. So Jeremy Cook told me they added a 1,000-square-foot showroom to their house, aiming to open their store in the spring of 2020. Then the pandemic hit.
“It felt like somebody took a sledgehammer to us,” he said.
Mystic Boys Antiques went online. But Wendy Cook said that’s a real challenge in rural West Virginia. They have to deal with buffering and sometimes lose their internet service altogether during live, online sales. Cook said some customers get impatient.
“Most of them are pretty understanding but there are ones out there, you know — ‘Hey, you just lost a customer,’” she said.
The Cooks say they are eking out a profit. And they do get $800 dollars a month in Social Security disability payments for each of their sons. But that doesn’t even cover their grocery bill. Back in Washington, Congressman Himes said the point of telling stories like the Cooks’ is not about getting legislation passed.
“Hopefully we succeeded, not in convincing you that we should increase the child tax credit, but in convincing you that, as a country we could do a better job taking care of our youngest Americans,” he said.
And, the most vulnerable. Himes is hoping, like those photographs of the Depression years ago, this film will generate empathy among Americans who don’t always agree with each other politically.
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