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May 1st commemorating workers around the world.

Updated: May 1

Although Labour Day or International Workers’ Day isn't traditionally celebrated in the UK, it holds significance in over 160 countries worldwide, championing the working classes and their rights for nearly a century and a half. In light of this, this programme aims to prompt reflection on the essence of being a worker. This curated journey will spotlight the triumphs of workers' rights and union achievements, while also underscoring the persistent need for further progress. 

Women have always been at the forefront of the labour movement. From Rosie the Riveter to the Willmar 8 to the real-life secretaries working 9 to 5, women in the workforce have fought hard to make their voices heard. But what about the stories that don’t get amplified by Western media? This International Workers’ Day, we're platforming stories of marginalised workers from around the world, as told by marginalised gender filmmakers.

Central to the programme is a recognition that workplace rights are not universally guaranteed. Illustrating this is a diverse selection of films that provide a global perspective, allowing us to transcend our individual experiences. From nurses' strikes in 1960s Charleston to the advocacy of garment workers' unions in Bangladesh, from South Korean retail workers protesting unfair treatment to the poignant struggles of a young girl striving to support her family amidst conflict-ridden Afghanistan, this lineup paints a diverse picture of labour realities worldwide.

I AM SOMEBODY (written and directed by Madeline Anderson. USA. 1970. 28 mins. English)

Directed by Madeline Anderson, celebrated as the pioneering African American woman to direct a televised documentary, I Am Somebody chronicles the courageous narrative of 400 Black and Brown nurses who initiated a historic strike in 1969. In the wake of their bold action, thousands rallied in solidarity, igniting a wave of protest that echoed far beyond Charleston.  

This documentary not only captures the struggles faced by nurses in 1969 but also draws striking parallels to the ongoing mistreatment of nurses across nations and throughout history. It shows the profound impact that collective action can wield, resulting in meaningful change. 

Through Anderson's lens, viewers are confronted with the timeless truth that the fight for justice and dignity knows no bounds of time or geography. I Am Somebody stands as a testament to the resilience of those who dare to challenge systemic injustice and a reminder of the transformative power of solidarity. Available to watch on Vimeo

UDITA (directed by Hannan Majid and Richard York. UK. 2015. 75 mins. Bengali with English subtitles)

Over half a decade, directors Hannan Majid and Richard York document the fight of garment workers in Bangladesh and the women at the forefront of the campaign for workers’ rights. 

In the face of physical abuse, illegal sackings and unliveable minimum wages, the workers remain steadfast in their cause, committed to educating colleagues about their rights and the importance of a unified front. For them, it is often a case of life and death: the unimaginable tragedies of the 2012 Tazreen Fashion factory fire and the 2014 Rana Plaza collapse are not unfamiliar prospects for the millions forced to work in perilous conditions.

As well as examining the vicious cycle that traps generations of women and girls in a lifetime of unsafe, underpaid work, this revealing documentary impels its audience to consider their own role in this system. What is the true price of our consumption? Avialable to watch on YouTube

CART (written by Kim Kyung-chan / directed by Boo Ji-young. South Korea. 2014. 110 mins. Korean with English subtitles)

Sun-hee (Yum Jung-ah), a mother of two, is told she will be getting a full time contract after five years of hard work, before the company instead announces that they are letting her and the other all-female temporary workers go. Confused, angered and in desperate need of their jobs, the women band together to protest the firing and fight for justice.  

Cart is inspired by true events. In 2007, a new law was passed requiring that employees be given regular worker status after a certain period of employment. However, a supermarket chain laid off its predominantly female temporary workers to avoid complying with this law. The ensuing strike in front of the supermarket of both the laid-off staff and the labour union lasted 512 days. This incident and the film it inspired highlight the lengths corporations will go to to cut corners, and the need for laws to protect workers. Available to watch on AppleTV

DOLORES HUERTA: SURVIVING THE SCOURGE OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT (directed by Hannah McNally. United Kingdom. 2018. 2 mins. English with English subtitles)

Dolores Huerta is an activist and labour organiser fighting for agricultural labourers’ rights, women's rights, and working to end racism. Throughout her life she has faced both racism and sexism as a Mexican American woman in a male-dominated working world. 

In this short film, Dolores discusses the sexism and sexual harassment she and other women have faced in the workplace, from payment being withheld for work done unless sex is provided, to being cornered in an office and sexually harassed, to having men take credit for her work. Hannah McNally’s beautifully animated short shows only a snippet of the workplace discrimination Dolores and other women must face on a daily basis. Dolores continues to campaign for equal pay for women, health care for all and social justice.  Available to watch on Vimeo

THE ASSISTANT (written and directed by Kitty Green. USA. 2019. 87 mins. English)

In The Assistant, Julia Garner portrays a young woman navigating the cutthroat world of entertainment, working as an assistant for a formidable industry mogul. Her job is a gruelling and dehumanising experience, marked by incessant belittlement and the unenviable task of cleaning up her boss's mess, both literally and figuratively.

When she suspects her boss to be abusing his power, she courageously attempts to inform her superiors, only to find herself obstructed by a culture of complicity that pervades the entire industry.

Against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, The Assistant emerges as a poignant and timely portrayal of the toxic underbelly of the entertainment industry. Through its understated narrative, the film powerfully underscores the devastating consequences of unchecked abuse and the insidious effects of silence. It serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need for systemic change and accountability. See JustWatch for where to watch.

THORNS AND SILK (directed by Paulina Tervo. UK. 2009. 13 mins. Arabic with English subtitles)

This short documentary offers a glimpse into the working lives of four Palestinian women as they navigate careers both in male-dominated spaces and on occupied land. 

Hanan Al-Sharef, The Filmmaker, works to maintain integrity in her profession within the bounds of her religion. Majda Al-Bahr, The Cabbie, wears her headscarf in the Jewish fashion and speaks Hebrew to assuage her Israeli settler customers’ discomfort over being driven by a Muslim woman. Niveen Al-Sawi, The Cop, finds pride in being one of the few women in the police academy, able to carry out duties her male counterparts cannot. Yusra Mansur, The Mechanic, studied the man who used to fix the machines from the sidelines until she was able to take over the job herself; now she must withstand daily harassment from settlers as she transports her goods. 

As prejudice and oppression persist in these four different fields, so do the women’s bravery and resilience.  Available to watch on

LADY OF THE GOBI (written by Khoroldorj Choijoovanchig, Chantal Perrin with Kate Kennelly. Directed by Khoroldorj Choioovanchig. France. 2022. 25 mins. Mongolian with English subtitles)

The journey from Mongolia to China is bleak and hazardous. Maikhuu, a truck driver, delivers coal from the Mongolian basins to the Chinese border. This stark, visually striking documentary shows the loneliness and isolation of life in her profession; Maikhuu yearns to be at home with her family but has chosen a job in a male-dominated industry to provide for her children. 

Filmed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the film highlights the impossible conditions the drivers had to endure while waiting to continue their journey. Maikhuu remains steadfast as the only female driver, showing strength and resilience, living out of her cab for weeks at a time. Her husband, also a truck driver, joins her for a meal - a brief but poignant date on an arduous journey. 

Maikhuu is sensitively portrayed in a beautiful film set in a remote part of the world often overlooked by Western filmmakers. Available to watch on YouTube

THE BREADWINNER (written by Anita Doron and Deborah Ellis. Directed by Nora Twomey. Ireland / Canada / Luxembourg. 2017. 94 mins. English)

Author Deborah Ellis spent months interviewing women and girls in Afghan refugee camps. The stories she heard became the basis and inspiration for her bestselling novel and the animated film The Breadwinner. Parvana is an 11 year old girl growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2001, after the Taliban have taken over. When her father is wrongfully arrested, Parvana cuts off her hair and dresses like a boy in order to support her family.

Stories are a theme throughout and stories are an escape, a powerful tool to light the family through dark times. The telling of stories inside the main narrative, separated by masterful stop-motion styles,  builds a beautiful, imaginative world. An early scene showing the centuries-long colonisation of Kabul with the different colonisers on horseback sets the tone of a powerful, exciting film aimed at a younger audience that will appeal to everyone. See JustWatch for where to watch

THE STROLL (directed by Kristen Lovell and Zachary Drucker. USA. 2023. 84 mins. English)

The Stroll explores the untold stories of Black and Latina transgender women who navigated the challenging world of sex work during the 1980s and 1990s in New York’s Meatpacking District. Director Kristen Lovell’s own story mirrors that of many shown in the film, forced into sex work after being fired from her job due to discrimination. 

Through a powerful blend of archival footage and photographs as well as interviews, the film shines a light on an important moment in trans history. In these interviews, women share their harrowing experiences, offering a raw look into their lives during these times. 

This film serves as a poignant reminder of the discriminatory barriers that have historically limited the options available to trans people, forcing them into dangerous circumstances such as sex work. These injustices still occur today, and The Stroll highlights the need for continued advocacy and action for trans rights, especially in the workplace. 

See JustWatch for where to watch.

We would like to thank Jessica Campbell (she/her), Mae Roberts (she/her), Sarah Curtis (she/her), and Olivia Frazer (she/her), final-year Film students at Sheffield Hallam University, for putting this programme together, and sharing their passion for women and marginalised-gender-led stories and working-class representation in film.

Happy  #InternationalWorkersDay, everybody!

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