Dirs. Jennifer Abbott, Joel Bakan, Canada, 2020, 105 min.
Screening virtually. Learn more here.
It’s not often that a documentary makes me cry. And even less often when it’s out of anger. But that’s the kind of film that The New Corporation is. The angry, passionate, what-the-fuck-inducing kind. A sequel to The Corporation which came out in 2003, the updated version picks up right where the original left off by building on its premise that if corporations were human, they’d be diagnosed as psychopaths by the DSM-IV. Like many social-commentary documentaries of today, it’s really not for the faint of heart because like Plato, it’s going to be hard to get back in the cave once you’ve seen it. But I would argue that because of that, its required viewing.
The film starts off by explaining that psychopaths work by being charming and charismatic. They want to be your friend! And then they kill you and store you under their floorboard walls or whatever. When it comes to corporations, the directors argue that the same playbook applies. Since the making of their 2003 film, they say that corporations have begun using new tactics in which they are aligning themselves as friends and allies to consumers — touting “transparency” and “accountability” — all while making a profit off of doing the same corrupt business they’ve always been known for. Sure, big baddies like Amazon, Google, and JP Morgan Chase make their appearances, but the directors argue that the more insidious players come in the form of companies that are working to privatize formerly public utilities like water. And it doesn’t stop there. Slowly but surely, corporations will take anything they can and privatize it to make money. It’s already happening with education, healthcare and incarceration.
“A market society means anything is up for sale,” the film claims. And that should scare us all.
As it goes on, the film brings us up to date with the inclusion of the pandemic and the racial-justice protests from last year. The filmmakers argue that the crises seen around the world brought on by COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd are echoes of problems created by corporations. But don’t worry: Just when you start to lose hope, the film makes an important pivot.
Hopeful beats and shots of Bernie Sanders and Greta Thunberg skirt across the screen as the film galvanizes viewers to take a stand by laying out their own playbook of resistance: winning local elections. By closely following the rise of Kshama Sawant, a socialist Seattle city councilmember who won her seat after protesting with Occupy Wallstreet and advocating for housing rights, the film makes the case that it’s not impossible to push back on the larger forces that control our society. And in fact, it’s necessary for our survival.