by Sayaka Matsuoka
Poverty Inc. screens today at 5 p.m. @ SECCA and April 19 at 10 a.m. @ Hanesbrands Theater as part of RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem.
This 2014 film feels more like an exposé than a documentary as it chronicles the unintended negative consequences of “positive” actions that aim to help those suffering from poverty. The film covers a wide range of initiatives including Band Aid’s popular 1984 Christmas song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the hip TOMS shoes company, and the role that celebrities play in the global poverty industry.
Focusing mainly on the African continent, Poverty Inc. shows the damaging ripple effect that NGOs, nonprofits and governmental aid have caused in several countries. Throughout the film, entrepreneurs, professors, and economists explain that the current system of aid damages the economies of those receiving it by overflowing the market with free resources, rendering local businesses invalid.
While the film takes a harsh look at these negative side effects of goodwill, it does not disapprove of aid entirely. Rather, it offers better alternatives to giving away free aid such as helping local businesses to grow and empowering communities by providing jobs so they can help themselves. A smart and necessary film, Poverty Inc. urges us to rethink the system of aid today and how to set about changing it.
Dir. Michael Matheson Miller, 94 min., USA, 2014