“Everyone in this nation is a victim of corporate crime by the time they finish breakfast.” That’s FBI representative Brian Shepard in the 2009 motion picture The Informant.
And Kenneth Dowler and Daniel Antonowicz utilize that quote to open their fascinating new book– Corporate Misbehavior on Movie: The ‘Public Be Damned’ (Routledge, 2022).
Dowler and Antonowicz are teachers in the Criminology Department at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, Ontario.
Dowler is a movie buff. He’s been watching movies his entire life. And he has seen many films about corporate crime and misbehavior throughout his life. However in investigating the book, he enjoyed much more.
In general, how would you rank Hollywood and how they illustrate business criminal offense?
“Usually speaking, the issue is truly overlooked,” Dowler told Business Criminal activity Reporter in an interview last month. “There are some great films that come along, films like Erin Brockovich, Dark Waters, A Civil Action. These are the ones we all keep in mind. However if you take a look at the top 10, you are taking a look at superhero movies and movies that would not get the general public to think of corporate criminal offense.”
“They basically recommend that you can’t make an amusing motion picture about corporate crime. But with the best director and writer, you can make these motion pictures come alive on screen. These motion pictures can be extremely engaging. The Huge Brief deals with a complex set of facts, however they did a great job of making it accessible.”
You say that just a handful of business criminal activity motion pictures end up in the leading 50 in the box workplace– Erin Brockovich, The China Syndrome, Norma Rae, Silkwood, Civil Action. Dark Waters finished at 116.
You compose that the public is more interested in spending their dollars looking at superheroes rather than narratives about corporate criminal activity.
There can be superheroes fighting corporate crime. And often they do. Is the general public not interested, or is Hollywood not interested?
“Hollywood is made of large corporations. They had a program. They play off this idea that perhaps people are not that interested in corporate criminal offense. But then a film like Erin Brockovich comes along and that grabs their attention.”
“Look at damages to employees. The movie industry has been anti-union and anti-labor. And there are not that numerous movies that illustrate union issues overall. But also Hollywood likes simple narratives.”
Simply a fast search on Hollywood and corporations and the very first short article that pops up is from the Toronto World and Mail entitled– Why Hollywood Hates Capitalism by Rick Groen. The business believe tanks are constantly going after Hollywood for depicting service in a bad light.
“We did speak about that a little bit. Hollywood is liberal on some concerns. But the reality is that the huge majority of representations of criminal offense– it’s street criminal offense not business criminal offense. You have very few representations of corporations dedicating these criminal offenses. There are a couple of motion pictures from the 1950s– Patterns and Executive Suite. I read some articles where these pro-business professors watching these movies were seeing something totally different than when I enjoyed the film.”
“I would state that Hollywood is more on the conservative side. The hit motion pictures like Jaws were just trying to keep the general public going to the movies, consuming their popcorn and not thinking of business crime or social justice. Hollywood can play a genuine role in keeping the general public controlled.”
You inform the story about the making of the movie Resident Kane and the reaction against it in the McCarthy period.
“Throughout the making of Resident Kane, William Randolph Hearst was distressed about the method he was illustrated in the movie. And he ended up attempting to prohibit that film from appearing in the theaters. He even attempted to pay off the head of the studio that was putting it out.”
“Again, they had the ability to get the movie out. And it didn’t garner much of an audience. In fact, when they won the Oscar for the film, the audience booed Orson Welles for the representation.”
You compose the following:
“Heart’s newspapers targeted Welles as a communist sympathizer and questioned his patriotism. Louis B. Mayer of MGM Studios even offered RKO Studio president George Schaefer $842,000 to destroy the negative and all the prints of Resident Kane. After refusing to disperse the movie, Schaefer threatened to sue the Fox, Paramount and Loews theater chains. In the end, the chains yielded and allowed a few showings, allowing the film to break even financially. Regardless of the troubles, the film was nominated for 9 Oscars, winning just one for best movie script, with Welles being roundly booed throughout the event.”
Dowler says “there was a collective effort to make certain that film did not come out.”
“Another movie was a 1940 movie called Boom Town. At the end of that film, there was a monologue by Spencer Tracy about the antitrust laws. Mayer had actually been beating up these antitrust laws for several years. And he hated the idea of antitrust. This motion picture came out and provided this monologue about American commercialism and how these antitrust laws are not in the spirit of capitalism.”
“Throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, you could not have progressive concepts in movie because of the possibility of censorship. Even the best movies, like the Grapes of Rage, are a bit soft in their presentation. They understand they will not be shown in theaters if they are unrestrained.”
It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas classic. I learned from your book that the FBI thought about the movie communist propaganda and kept the motion picture on its list of communist films. There was even a Home Un-American Activities Committee hearing on It’s a Wonderful Life. What effect did the HUAC have on Hollywood?
“It had a huge effect at the time. Many individuals were blacklisted. In the book, I talk about the film The Salt of the Earth. It was a movie that was banned for some 30 to 40 years. The motion picture had to do with a mining strike. A lot of individuals who were blacklisted were associated with the production of that film.”
“In the 1950s and 1960s, you did not see movies that critique industrialism. So it did have a long lasting effect. Even if there are movies that review commercialism, there is normally a delighted ending. The idea is that America and commercialism will continue to be successful. The narrative is that even though there are problems, it is still the best system worldwide.”
“Today, there are more opportunities for various points of view.”
What are a few of your preferred business criminal activity motion pictures?
“If I had to pick one it would be Dark Waters. It had everything you wanted in a film. It fits all the hallmarks of business crime.”
“Bread and Roses by Ken Lynch. It was a 2000 film. That movie was extremely effective. It had to do with a union organization for house maids in Los Angeles. It’s about how these individuals are maltreated. The theme of the film is that these janitorial staff are not dealt with as humans.”
“Bitter Harvest is a hard film to discover. I had to track that a person down on a DVD. Bitter Harvest is a 1981 made for tv motion picture starring Ron Howard. It’s a movie about a farmer whose animals was contaminated with PBB. A big portion of the population in Michigan have this forever chemical in their system due to the fact that they blended the fertilizer with a flame retardant chemical. The movie didn’t put the spotlight on the corporation’s role, but it did show how unsafe it can be when these corporations participate in these careless actions.”
“Minamata is another excellent one. I actually liked that motion picture.”
Minamata was trashed by reviewers. Why did you like it?
“I’m uncertain why it was trashed. Johnny Depp’s acting sometimes can be a little over the top. However I liked the method they portrayed the victims. There was a famous photo of among the victim’s of the mercury poisoning. I liked the method they revealed the victims and the grassroots action to challenging the corporation. They revealed the victims as real people and the devastating repercussions of the corporation’s actions. It was a very human motion picture.”
“Some reviewers were concentrated on Johnny Depp. I was concentrated on the victims and the children in the healthcare facilities. And this is a story that needs to be told. People require to understand the effects of the business actions and how the corporation covered it up and denied it.”
“Sometimes you read the motion picture reviews and believe– perhaps this film is not going to be that great. I had that response too. I thought entering into some of these films– this is going to be dreadful. And after that you view the movie and you say– this is in fact an excellent film and it illustrates many of the things we need to know about business crime and misbehavior.”
[For the total q/a format Interview with Kenneth Dowler, see 36 Business Crime Press Reporter 22( 12 ), May 30, 2022, print edition only.]