Documentary is eerily pertinent in light of today’s immigration crisis.
On July 17, 1917, 1,200 miners of mostly Eastern-European and Mexican descent were rounded up by a group of 2,000 armed and deputized citizens and forced out of the small town of Bisbee, Arizona for striking against Phelps Dodge.
The roundup, organized by Phelps Dodge, the American mining company that owned the copper mines in the town, had the miners transported to the New Mexico desert in cattle cars and left them stranded with no provisions and threats against returning to Bisbee.
Bisbee, located seven miles north of the Mexican border, is filled with old mines (the last of which was shut down in 1975) that made the town one of the richest in the state during the World War I era.
It also serves as the subject of Robert Greene’s Sundance-premiered documentary “Bisbee ‘17.” Greene traveled to the town on the centennial of the deportation to revisit part of the town’s history that is rarely, if ever, talked about.
Interviews with town residents, shots of the town, its landscape, and the huge copper mine that was turned into a tourist attraction in the 1970s, along with footage of town-wide preparations to reenact the events, are mixed together to tell the story of this border town and its forgotten ethnic cleansing.
“The Chinese Exclusion Act,” premiering tonight as part of PBS’s “American Experience,” was in the works well before the election of Donald Trump. But it feels as if it were made for a moment when border walls and immigration controls are topics of daily conversation.
Directed by the PBS stalwart Ric Burns and his longtime collaborator Li-Shin Yu, the documentary is centered on the 1882 act of the title, the first American law to restrict the immigration of a particular ethnic group and ban its members from citizenship.
Throughout the film, the contemporary parallels smack you in the face. Chinese laborers, imported to build the western side of the transcontinental railroad, are seen as a threat when the railroad is finished and the post-Civil War depression of the 1870s drives up white unemployment. A presidential candidate (Rutherford B. Hayes) exploiting anti-immigrant sentiment loses the popular vote but wins the electoral vote. Principled opposition to a citizenship ban (mostly from Republicans) is finally outweighed by the need to court Southern lawmakers readmitted to Congress after Reconstruction.
It seems like nary a month goes by without some new Kennedy content being sent out into the world; we’ve heard just about everything there is to know about John, Jackie, and even Ted.
Now, as the 50-year anniversary of his assassination approaches, Netflix puts the spotlight on Robert F. Kennedy and brings us “Bobby Kennedy for President,” a docuseries chronicling the career of the would-be president whose life was tragically cut short.
Combining archival footage with high-profile interviews, director Dawn Porter does something truly special with the four-part documentary series.
Rather than attempting to encapsulate Kennedy’s entire life in extreme detail, she wisely hones in on only the essentials and his career as U.S. Attorney General through his short-lived run for president in 1968.
In the closing decades of the 19th century, during what has become known as the Gilded Age, the population of the United States doubled in the span of a single generation. The nation became the world’s leading producer of food, coal, oil, and steel, attracted vast amounts of foreign investment, and pushed into markets in Europe and the Far East.
As national wealth expanded, two classes rose simultaneously, separated by a gulf of experience and circumstance that was unprecedented in American life. These disparities sparked passionate and violent debate over questions still being asked in our own times: How is wealth best distributed, and by what process? Does government exist to protect private property or provide balm to the inevitable casualties of a churning industrial system? Should the government concern itself chiefly with economic growth or economic justice?
The battles over these questions were fought in Congress, the courts, the polling place, the workplace and the streets. The outcome of these disputes was both uncertain and momentous, and marked by a passionate vitriol and level of violence that would shock the conscience of many Americans today.
“The Gilded Age” presents a compelling and complex story of one of the most convulsive and transformative eras in American history.
“American Experience’s “The Gilded Age” premieres February 6 on PBS.