Socially Responsible Film

The Battle in Seattle is about the 1999 protests at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle.  A diverse 40,000 strong coalition of labor activists, students, anarchists, and NGOs organized this anti-globalization protest to stop the WTO. They believe this organization causes injustice, inequality,  and general harm throughout the world and that globalization itself is bad. The movie follows a group of young protesters who are trying to lead a peaceful demonstration about a cause they care dearly about. However, some of the anarchists in the protest start breaking windows and vandalizing businesses in the area.

As it turns out, the WTO conference is canceled because the delegates cannot get in due to protesters blocking the entrances. Eventually, the Seattle Mayor who is conveyed as unwilling to use force against the people, is forced by the Governor to unleash the riot police to restore order. This causes brutal and largely one-sided fights involving the cops beating, spraying, and arresting the protesters into submission. The movie drags on as more people get attacked by police until the fighting finally stops and everyone is either in jail, a hospital, or hobbling home.

This movie is a cross between a documentary and an action drama. The characters are all fictional with a few based on real people, but the story takes place during a real event. It is clear that the producers carefully researched the 1999 WTO protests to create a relatively realistic portrayal of the events. Whereas Although the movie definitely focuses too much on the police crackdown on the protests, it does occasionally get its point across and talk about the anti-global agenda. Another purpose of the film was to show that the violent activists were actually a small minority of the protesters, but they overshadowed the peaceful message in the media coverage.

The viewer immediately recognizes that this is a fairly big-budget Hollywood film from some of the famous actors in it, including Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, Andre 3000, and Michelle Rodriguez. The movie also has very high production values with clearly a lot of money to spend on large sets with dramatic fight scenes between police and protesters. The movie had an $8 million budget (IMDb) which probably was not all recouped. The movie was at first released in limited theaters and then saw release in small and independent theaters throughout the country. Some larger theaters showed the movie, but not extensively. The movie did have a website with some information, but since social media was just becoming big back in 2007, The Battle in Seattle did not really take advantage of Facebook and Twitter. Movie goers clearly weren’t all that interested in such a pivotal moment in US history.

The film extensively uses archived footage of the protests and news coverage to great dramatic effect. It makes the entire narrative seem so much more real when the viewer sees real people being brutally beaten on American streets, something we are used to seeing only in authoritarian countries. Otherwise, the movie was quite conventional, with normal pacing, plot, actors, and editing. Dramatic and ominous music set the mood for the protests.

Whatever your views about globalization and its political, social, cultural, and economic effects, this film serves to remind a younger generation about the ideological clash that resulted in a far too real battle. Having been alive but not exactly politically aware back when I was nine years old, The Battle in Seattle movie helped put a face to anti-globalism and made people more aware of the cause. For the record, in some ways I sympathize with their cause but these guys are far too radical and reactionary for me.


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