By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
A new movie that is out on video on demand (VOD) is called “Working Man” and coincidentally speaks to the alienation and loss that some workers may experience during the COVID-19 lockdown. I am sure the movie was not designed to be a voice during these particular trying times, but the subject matter is right on point. Primarily, it addresses factory closings, but it also sheds a light on issues of alienation and productivity during state-mandated closures, if your employer does not require you to virtually work from home.
The film was made in Chicago and is the story of a life-long factory worker who searches for purpose after his plant closes. It presents an “unexpectedly poignant moment for America’s working class.” Starring Peter Gerety (“Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Flight” and “Public Enemies”), Talia Shire (“The Godfather” and “Rocky”) and Billy Brown (“How to Get Away with Murder”), “Working Man” was filmed entirely in Chicago, including—in a moment of life imitating art—at the now-closed Makray Manufacturing plant in Norridge, IL. When the last factory in a small Rust Belt town closes its doors, an unlikely hero emerges in dutiful, quiet Allery Parkes (Gerety). A career employee of the factory, the aging Allery can’t reconcile how to live a life simply sitting at home doing nothing, and against the advice and pleas of his loving wife, Iola (Shire), he forms an unlikely friendship with his charismatic neighbor, Walter Brewer (Brown), in order to revive the defunct factory. As their community rallies around them – and as their former corporate bosses strategize how to implode this unexpected movement – Allery learns that he might be something he never thought possible: a leader.
Allery and Walter become fast friends, after Allery insists on going to work when the plastics factory is closed. Walter is sympathetic because many workers live on the same block. Folks were wondering just why Allery would insist on returning to the abandoned factory. What arises is a “work in,” where Walter has misled the employees into believing that they would get paid for completing outstanding contracts. After days of sleeping in and producing plastic items, the group of employees is met with stern directives from management to vacate the premises or risk arrest. Allery learns more about Walter (who had been a stranger) than he had imagined. But during the experience, he learned much about himself and was able to address a deep seated hurt that he had been harboring. Filmed in Chicago in 20 days (plus one day in Joliet), locations in the film include Makray Manufacturing in Norridge; Ed’s Way Food Mart in Forest Park; and Las Palmas Restaurant in Wicker Park. The film’s ensemble cast is populated entirely by Chicago talent, including A.C. Smith, Bea Cordelia, Patrese McClain, Kristen Fitzgerald and J. Salome Martinez. “A potent tribute to out-of-work Americans […] It deserves attention for the fine performances at the center of this well drawn canvas.”—The Hollywood Reporter. “Working Man” is available now. For more information and to view a trailer, visit https://www.workingmanmovie.com.
As one of Chicago’s Black newspapers with a citywide distribution, our mission is to provide readers with factual news and in-depth coverage of its impact in the Black community. The Rona Reports are stories of Black resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. This Rona Report is made possible by the Chicago COVID-19 Journalism Fund, which is a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
First published in the print edition of the Chicago Crusader Newspaper on May 9, 2020.