The inspiring documentary by Rachel Lears takes us inside a world that many people interact with on a daily basis and hardly ever stop to notice. The Hand That Feeds tells the story of New York City sandwich-maker Mahoma Lopez as he unites his fellow, undocumented co-workers on the path to fair wages and better working conditions, with liberty and justice for all. (BKP: 3.5/5)
The opening scene in the film exemplifies the financial struggle of undocumented, Mexican-American workers who survive and try to support their families on less than minimum wage. Working seven days a week without a break, these works constantly fear premature termination. If they are sick, they are threatened with being fired and have to come into work anyway.
The film centers on one NYC bakery and café in particular – the Hot & Crusty – where workers serve coffee and bagels around the clock under the rule of an abusive manager. Tired of his unjust situation, Mahoma Lopez gathers his co-workers to fight back and earn a better living. With the help of young protestors, Lopez and his group form an independent union and face the hardships, criticisms and betrayals that come along with risking everything. The workers face a two-month lockout from the Hot and Crusty and fear losing everything they have fought so tirelessly to earn.
Lears tackles politics head-on by personifying hot-button issues ranging from undocumented citizens to economic inequality. The politically one-sided film, however, accomplishes its goal by the end of the film. If you are not completely sympathetic to these peoples’ living conditions, The Hand That Feeds ultimately makes you question the issues as they pertain to you. Instead of using the points of view of seedy politicians, the film gives you a first-person look at how undocumented citizens in this country are living. They do the work that nobody else wants to do. They make the sandwiches, they clean dishes, and they toast the bagels that customers nonchalantly grab without thinking twice – not only at NYC’s Hot & Crusty. It focuses more on the people involved and the affect it has on their lives, rather than focusing on the government.
Politics aside, the film is an underdog story. Robin Blotnick, the film’s co-director and producer, edits the film in a way that makes Mahoma Lopez’s journey engaging and inspiring from start to finish. It is captivating in a way that makes you question your work ethic, your appreciation for a dollar, and your attitude towards others. If a film makes an audience think twice about people and places they otherwise wouldn’t think twice about, it is a worthwhile project to witness.
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (4/2/15)
Photos: Co-workers from Hot & Crusty gather in NYC
Q: Does The Hand That Feeds pass the Bechdel Test?