(11/08/08) – Human rights issues in China is one of most hotly debated topics in the world today, which the flood of protest surrounding the ongoing Beijing Olympic Games shows. But while some of us are rightly appaled at the country’s dismal record on rights of all types, Western consumers continue to cheerfully buy cheap goods manufactured in the country, blissfully unaware of the human cost behind the low price. Much is said about the conditions workers have to endure in Chinese "sweatshops" but we rarely get a glimpse of their reality.
David Redmon’s Mardi Gras: Made in China (2005), which was nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Award (2005), makes a bridge between Western consumers and Chinese workers by juxtaposing two universes that compliment and conflict each other: capitalist hedonism and capitalist exploitation. The former is illustrated by the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, when colourful beads are thrown at women who flash their naked breasts to a raucous, debauched crowd – Redmon does a great job at depicting Western decadence, spiritual void and ignorance withour proselytising about it. The latter is represented by a female-staffed factory in Fuzhou, China, where the beads are made by teenagers who sometimes work 20 hours a day to get their job done or risk punishment in the form of a pay cut (they earn around $60 a month plus exposure to cancer-giving materials).
Although for Redmon politics is not the driving force of the film – the tone is intimate, humanist and quite light-hearted – the film is a 21st century, globalisation-era take on Karl Mark’s ideas on the dissociation between workers and the commodities they produce. Redmon counteracts that by telling American revellers where their goods come from and showing pictures of the Mardi Gras to the workers. Both sides are equally surprised at what they see.
Mardi Gras: Made in China is straightforward, low-key and unjudgemental, although it is impossible not to be partial to man focus of the film, the smiling, resilient factory girls who maintain an incredible optimism despite the harsh conditions in which they live and work. Edmonton also found great material in the shape of the factory owner, a veritable incarnation of an Orwellian capitalist boss.
Mardi Gras: Made in China is out now on Carnivalesque Films. The DVD includes deleted scenes and a worker’s diary as extras. Please follow the links provided to buy a copy and support Kamera by doing so.