The Hand That Feeds
Shy sandwich-maker Mahoma López unites his undocumented immigrant coworkers to fight abusive conditions at a popular New York restaurant chain.
Directed by Rachel Lears, Robin Blotnick
Executive Producer: Alex Rivera
Co-Producer: Patricia Benabe
Director of Photography: Rachel Lears
Editors: Robin Blotnick, David Meneses
Original Score: Ryan Blotnick
Executive Producer for LPB: Sandie Viquez Pedlow
A production of Jubilee Films in association with Latino Public Broadcasting, Chicken & Egg Pictures and Vineyard Point Productions with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
[Note: Community screenings of THE HAND THAT FEEDS can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]
"You will never look at your deli server the same way again." Patricia Aufderheide, Center for Media & Social Impact
At a popular bakery café, residents of New York's Upper East Side get bagels and coffee served with a smile 24 hours a day. But behind the scenes, undocumented immigrant workers face sub-legal wages, dangerous machinery, and abusive managers who will fire them for calling in sick. Mild-mannered sandwich maker Mahoma López has never been interested in politics, but in January 2012, he convinces a small group of his co-workers to fight back.
Risking deportation and the loss of their livelihood, the workers team up with a diverse crew of innovative young organizers and take the unusual step of forming their own independent union, launching themselves on a journey that will test the limits of their resolve. In one roller-coaster year, they must overcome a shocking betrayal and a two-month lockout. Lawyers will battle in back rooms, Occupy Wall Street protesters will take over the restaurant, and a picket line will divide the neighborhood. If they can win a contract, it will set a historic precedent for low-wage workers across the country. But whatever happens, Mahoma and his coworkers will never be exploited again.
Grade Level: 10 -12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2015
Copyright Date: 2014
DVD ISBN: 1-94154-536-X
"Highly Recommended...This accessible and evenly-paced documentary provides a concise vignette of the power of collective action by exploited low-wage workers to achieve justice and improve working conditions...This work will likely resonate with students and stir both their hearts and minds."
Rob Bohall, Educational Media Reviews Online
"It is a story that has to be told and retold, in the classroom and in community centers. The vagaries associated with labor organizing, particularly among immigrant and low-wage workers is poignantly lucid. The challenges associated with the struggle for dignity and power in labor relations is presented with stark clarity and detail, and includes important context about the push and pull of immigration. The film is inspiring. One could not view this film without arriving to a deeper understanding of labor organizing, immigrant workers, and the lessons of a sustained movement for social justice."
Deborah Weissman, Professor of Law, University of North Carolina
"Exhilarating...Captures the adrenaline, uncertainties, and joys of an organizing campaign. It shows what a small group of workers-armed with innovative strategies and a clear vision of how to build power-can pull off."
Sonia Singh, Labor Notes
"Succeed(s) in putting a human face on the abuse encountered by precarious workers and on their limited options for dignified employment...Point(s) to a number of critical lessons for workers and their allies who want to organize in order to address workplace injustice."
Spencer L. Cowles, Anthropology of Work Review
"The Hand That Feeds is not just a story of their fight for better wages, benefits and a right to unionize. As 'Fight for $15' rallies kick off around the country...the documentary is now being used to inspire workers everywhere - especially at small businesses."
Jana Kasperkevic, The Guardian
"A moving documentary...It beautifully exposes the plight of undocumented workers in the food service industry and their struggle for dignity and a piece of the American Dream. Ideal for use in social studies courses on labor, immigration, or the new field of food studies."
Ruth Milkman, Professor of Sociology and Labor Studies, City University of New York, Co-editor, New Labor In New York: Precarious Workers and the Future of the labor Movement
"My strongest possible recommendation is to see this film...to be reminded of how good a victory can feel. This film is a shot in the arm to a movement that can sometimes forget what power we have, even in the darkest of times...It is best for us to think of ourselves as the future vanguard of a mass movement that cannot only give workers a sense of their 'dignity and respect' as Michael Yates puts it, but everybody in the 99 percent."
Louis Proyect, Counterpunch
"The Hand That Feeds provides an absorbing look at the organizing efforts of a small group of undocumented workers and their allies. In following that process, full of unexpected ups and downs, we see the workers move from exploitation to empowerment. This is an inspiring film in a time when labor victories are all too few."
Dr. Robin Leidner, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, Author, Fast Food, Fast Talk: Service Work and the Routinization of Everyday Life
"Compelling...powerful...An exciting documentary to use in an undergraduate course, particularly one focusing on the sociology of work or social movements...Students will be moved to look at labor differently and consider their own role in supporting workers' rights."
Emily Ruehs, Teaching Sociology Journal
"This inspiring film will encourage discussions on minimum wage and labor practices."
Candace Smith, Booklist
"Putting a human face on a hot-button subject, the film about undocumented workers fighting back against exploitation in the food-service industry is recommended."
P. Hall, Video Librarian
"One comes away...with the feeling that collective action really can get the goods - that all of the risks and heartbreak that go into organizing might just be worth it. And at a time of such widespread working-class demobilization, such a message is desperately needed."
Micah Uetricht, Jacobin
"An effective portrayal of the intricacies of activism - and of a situation in which victories seem all too brief."
Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times
"It's Norma Rae with a side of sauerkraut, a tribute to American labor, and an example of socially conscious documentary filmmaking at its best."
Peter Keough, The Boston Globe
"López is a singularly tender, compelling, and articulate campaigner in this high-stakes struggle for justice, filmed with the urgency and suspense of a Hitchcock thriller."
Diana Clarke, The Village Voice
"A powerful new documentary...beautifully shot...The stories of the characters in The Hand That Feeds make for a powerfully emotional movie that moved the diverse audience of New Yorkers to tears at times."
Octavio Blanco, CNN Money
"If you are an organizer, an activist or just someone who likes a good story, you should see The Hand That Feeds...Let's be inspired by The Hand That Feeds which shows that if we organize and persevere, we can win."
Lauren Steiner, Hollywood Progressive
"An inspirational documentary chronicling an intrepid band of working-class heroes' demands that their rights be respected...Excellent (4 stars)."
Kam Williams, The Skanner
"A cautionary tale about the false hope perpetuated by the American dream, and an uplifting film that suggests some version of that dream, even in a U.S. with an eroding middle class, can still be achieved."
Jen Chaney, The Dissolve
"As rousing as it is seemingly implausible."
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
"Deftly edited for maximum suspense."
Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader
"A powerful story that we don't often see in movies."
Chris Barsanti, PopMatters
Stephen Holden, The New York Times
"If there's one documentary you want to put on your watch list, it's this one."
Rose Arrieta, El Tecolote
"You will never look at your deli server the same way again."
Patricia Aufderheide, Center for Media and Social Impact
"An inspiring story."
Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
"A deeply humanizing look at the low-wage workers in the back of the house."
Alicia Mazzara, DCist
"A necessary addition to the dialogue surrounding the issue of undocumented immigrants."
Marisa M. Kashino, Washingtonian Magazine
"Scrappy, funny, and moving."
Isabella Leone, Students of the World
"A crowd pleaser...A well-plotted and captivating David and Goliath story."
Anthony Kaufman, Indiewire
"An impassioned reminder that collective action is often the best way to fight the powers that be."
Lewis Beale, News and Observer
Two versions on the DVD: original 84-minute theatrical version, and 56-minute classroom version with bleeped track
Language options: English, Spanish, Bilingual, and English SDH captions (subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing)
7-minute New York Times Op-Doc "Occupy Bakery"
5.1 surround sound on theatrical version
Host a community screening
The film's website
Changing the Food Chain - Interactive map of organizations that support workers in the food industry
Food Chain Workers Alliance
Center for Popular Democracy
Jobs with Justice
United for a Fair Economy
Laundry Workers Center
Awards and Festivals
Audience Award, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Audience Award, DOC NYC
Best of Fest, AFI Docs
Audience Award, Chicago Latino Film Festival
Jury Prize, Best Documentary, Sidewalk Film Festival
Jury Prize, Best Documentary, ReadingFilmFEST
International Jury Prize, Document International Human Rights Film Festival
Audience Award, aluCine Latino Film Festival
Honorable Mention, Best Documentary Feature, Dallas VideoFest
Cleveland International Film Festival
Traverse City Film Festival
Society for Visual Anthropology Film Festival
Boulder International Film Festival
Sedona International Film Festival
Woodstock Film Festival
Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival
Stranger than Fiction
Reframe Peterborough International Film Festival
Cine + Mas San Francisco Latino Film Festival
Patois: New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival
San Diego Latino Film Festival
Seattle Social Justice Film Festival
Jayu Human Rights Film Festival
Hardacre Film Festival
Social Justice Film Festival - Food Justice 2015
Bellingham Human Rights Film Fest
Labor and Work Issues
Latin American Studies
Latino and Chicano Studies
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"A documentary that Americans need to see."
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan, The Herald-Sun
"The Hand that Feeds is a triumphal account of labor action, specifically involving immigrant laborers but equally applicable to any workers in the United States...Audiences of the film will understand not only more about the travails of immigrant workers who perform jobs that most Americans do not want at wages most Americans could not accept, but also about the conditions that all wage-earning Americans face as they try to maintain a living wage and a sense of dignity in an increasingly hostile neoliberal environment. Level/use: Suitable for high school classes and college courses in cultural anthropology, economic anthropology, anthropology of immigration, anthropology of social movements, and American studies, as well as for general audiences."
Jack David Eller, Anthropology Reviews Database
"Explore[s] struggles around social reproduction in realms shaped by capitalist relations forged through the U.S.-Mexico border...Reminds us that 'the system doesn't work for poor people.'"
Manuel Callahan, Films for the Feminist Classroom