Parents' Guide to

The Killing Floor

By Brian Costello, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Violence, language, racism in excellent historical drama.

Movie NR 1984 118 minutes
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While the events depicted in this film happened over 100 years ago, it's easy to see how they've helped to shape contemporary realities. These events and issues, the intersecting of labor, class, race, ethnicity, and immigration, are brought into a remarkable clarity with The Killing Floor, and decades since its release, it's a movie that remains all too relevant. In a time when men worked in the Chicago Stockyards for low pay and abhorrent conditions, kept separated from each other as the meatpacking industrial barons practiced "divide and conquer" strategies rooted in exploiting racial and ethnic prejudice, the burgeoning labor movement fought for eight-hour work days and time-and-a-half for overtime work. They advocated this while also preaching for a universal brotherhood of workers that transcended these easily-exploited racial and ethnic divides, particularly in Chicago. While the rhetoric is remarkably progressive and the cause a noble one, the reality marred by what became known as "The Chicago Race Riot of 1919," started when an African American child, while swimming in Lake Michigan, accidentally ended up crossing into a "whites only" beach, and was pelted with rocks until he drowned.

For families looking for more historical context on the systemic racism that many Americans are starting to attempt to better comprehend, The Killing Floor is essential viewing. The acting is magnificent across the board, and the story doesn't shy away from thorny complexities and ugly truths. It should inspire discussion about what has and hasn't changed since the events depicted in the movie, how events like these continue to haunt the American backstory, the development of the labor movement, and where we go from here as we strive to make a more just society.

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