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Cinematic Representation of Social Problems


For a good part of 20th century cinema has been used by film makers to highlight social issues. With the passage of time the viewership of films have increased and with modern technology at their disposals film makers can now cater to more and more audiences therefore this medium is also use to elucidate plight of the general people. The issues that affect the bourgeoisies of our society are of great interest to the film makers for many reasons. Firstly these issues attract general audience to the big screens, which in turn bring profits to the film makers, and secondly problems of the common public are also highlighted.

Sleep Dealer by Alex Rivera is an effort to depict the social problems. The film touches upon many aspects of life of the general public and portrays how issues like migration, labor laws and land use laws affect them. It is a commendable effort by the New York based filmmaker to narrate a futuristic account of the issues related to technology and labor. The film reinforces the fact that the coming future is not as prosperous and cheerful as prophesized by many and the technological advancements will aggravate the problems of the poor. The unoptimistic, bleak view of the world to come startles the audiences and also forces many of us to think about the perils of the practices that are commonplace in our society.

Sleep Dealer: The Movie

The film starts in the settings of a futuristic world in which borders are not open to anyone and the movement of people through borders is restricted. The world is controlled by corporate giants who have militarized and the computer technology has advanced to new levels. The influence of private corporations have increased so much so that they are hijacking natural resources and controlling the lives of the people. These corporations try to gain profits by selling these natural resources at high prices. They use military power to subdue the public and rule over them with ease, as no one dares to cross them.

The main character of the film is named Memo Cruz who is a gadget freak. He develops a radio through which he listens over a classified conversation which is related to a future city the government is planning to develop. The information was not for the general public and as soon as the government finds out about it his life is in danger. He leaves his house only to find more trouble ahead of him. His escape from his home town and his new life is full of problems and difficulties, as he seeks to find work in any high level technological factory. Finally when he is able to find work according to his wishes, he is exposed of harsh realities of the world of technology and how this technology is used to manipulate and enslave a wide range of population. It is known that people with power and money are just trying to rip the world for resources.

The film highlights a number of issues like migration, use of technology, labor issues, right to use land and the exploitation people face within their country and across national borders. The main idea of the movie is to present a world that is by all standards more technologically advanced than our world and to show the people how the problems and difficulties of common man will not be solved by the use of technology as it is shown and promised by different companies and people (Silverman, Jason, 2008).

This idea is not anticipated by many people and they don’t accept that machines and robots will be used to eradicate emotions like compassion and benevolence from the world. But the debate is not our point of concern and we just want to shed light upon the social issues people face in real life and their comparison with Rivera’s version, and also how life in the future will affect these social problems.

Social Issues highlighted in the Movie

The movie tries to throw light on the plight of the common people and elaborates how issues like labor and immigration affect the lives of general public. These issues are not unknown to our times and people even today are suffering from severe problems. These issues will be analyzed in great detail and they will be compared to Rivera’s take on these problems.

Labor Issues

Among the many changes industrialization brought with it, one of the most influential was the introduction of labor. The use of labor force in the industries solved the problem of employment and many people were able to earn a decent living in the process.  The advent of industrialization solved a massive problem and provided people with a source of income, but the benefit was only on a superficial level. In reality it was the beginning of the process of exploitation of workers and other common people. The machine age instigated fires of materialism in the people and those who had money were busy searching ways to increase their wealth, even at the expense of others. As known by everyone workers were not granted rights and they were exploited in the name of employment.

With the passage of time labor rights are now reinforced to some extent and the concept of minimum wage and other laws aimed at empowering the labor force have been implemented by the governments. But this has not ended the oppression the common workers had to face in previous years. Factory owners and business men have come up with new ways to rob the workers from their rights and still today in many countries labors are paid nominal incomes.

The governments have announced different packages for the labor force and they are offered medical insurances and other benefits but this has done less to mitigate the troubles of the common people. Factories are now being shifted to places that are remote and where implementation of law and order may not be that effective. Business owners are using loop holes in the system to find ways to exploit workers and reduce their cost.

The companies are also trying to move their production units to third world countries and in this way they are able to avoid the strict rules and regulations of the international agencies and governments. Mexico, Philippine, India, Bangladesh and China are countries which are now the target of business owners. So in reality the problem is just shifted from one place to another and the same exploitation is going on in places where media and international agencies cannot reach.

The main problem of labor force in third world countries are low wages, poor working conditions, violence, no medication services, child labor and discrimination (Federation of Free Workers, 2010). These problems are known to everyone but we wish to avert from them as they are providing benefits to us. The cheap labor significantly reduces the cost of the products and the profits are bagged by the corporations.

The third world countries themselves show no interest in solving these issues because they earn valuable foreign exchange in the process and in economies of some countries flourish due to cheap labor and child labor (Global Trade Negotiations, 2004). This provides valuable incentives to the third world nations and the problems stay unresolved. People continue to buy products that are made in these third world countries and this also makes corporations reluctant to change their practices and in turn suffering of workers worsens.

The rights of labors have been granted by the trade commission and they are trying hard to reinforce them, but to no avail and people are being continuously exploited. They cannot turn to anyone for help and their hard work goes unrewarded. The minimum wage in Mexico is around $4.5 per day officially (Mexico Facts and Figures, 2010). But this nominal rate is not followed and workers are paid vey less than this minimum salary. This gives a clear idea as to how the labor force is exploited. This is story of only one country so one can imagine the plight of workers in other countries.

In the early 20th century the problems that workers were facing have been reduced to some extent, but these problems have not been solved and with the advent of technology labor force are exploited to earn revenues and profits by reducing cost. It seems that the problems we faced in the beginning of 20th century continue to haunt us in the beginning of the 21st century. We are still talking about labor rights and child labor, but we know that the problem is impossible to eradicate.

One valuable lesson history has taught us in this regard is that problems and sufferings will not diminish with the advent or use of technologies and people will continue to suffer no matter how better laws and machines we develop. This in a way reinforces the argument put forward by Rivera in his social satire. He is also trying to depict the hypocrisy of this world and the same level of hypocrisy and deceit is seen in the history. Promises were made and people were told that the coming ages will bring harmony and peace, but in turn they brought sufferings and violence. The promises that were made turned out to be lies and no one got the benefit the technology promised us.

The labor issues still exist today in the world and the illicit measures to reap hard work out of labors continue to haunt poor people. They are just tools for a faction of the society and they are helpless. The same situation is depicted in the movie and the reality is not very different.  It is just beginning of the demise of humanity and this will continue until another bloody revolution shatters the status quo.

Immigration Issues

Immigration is also one of the problems that have been troubling governments all over the world, especially the developed countries. People come in these countries in hope of a better future, but sometimes their stay in the country is not legal. There are many problems which immigration causes to the society as a whole and those problems have also been aggravated by the process of industrialization. It has shown people a method to earn large sums of money and they are enticed by hopes of better future and that make them leave their profession and come to towns and countries which offer better life styles and opportunities.

The reason people criticize the process of industrialization is that with new products and benefits, industrialization also increased depravity by increasing the gaps between the poor and the rich. The process of industrialization provided rich a chance to manipulate and rule over the poor and this caused lots of problem for people who had limited resources. The increase in difference of poor and rich instigated love for money and power in the minds of the residents and it gave rise to conflicts between the two factions of the society. This ongoing tussle between the rich and poor is extended in many areas and this is what lures poor people to wish for a better life. Actually standards have been raised and the definition of ‘a better life’ has been changed, and this is the cause of rift in our society.

In the search of better life poor citizens try to come to the developed countries and this causes problems not only for the country, but to the immigrants as well. Some of the immigrants indulge in criminal activities and this causes the crime rates to go up. The problem that these immigrants face is another story that tarnishes the reputation of humanity. They are subjected to violence and threats. They are made to do work for long hours and they are paid very less. These people are helpless as they have no place to go and they are in constant fear of getting arrested and deportation.

Let us take an example of United States. In 2007 the immigrant population of United States of America peaked to a record 37.5 million (Ohlemacher, Stephen, 2007). This figure is a clear indication as to how significant the role these immigrants play in the all aspects of national life of any country. Most of the immigrants are male and young; the reason for this is economic growth that these immigrants aim at. Most of them come from poor third world countries which cannot provide appropriate opportunities to these people.

The growth of our national economy is also dependant on these immigrants. They constitute a great proportion of the work force. Most of these immigrants are prepared to do jobs that are considered hazardous by the locals. Employers find it more suitable to employ immigrants as they may be hired for less salary than the local people. This is a very significant fact that tells many things about the level of wickedness we see in the employers of today. This is also one of the reasons why the governments of the developed nations give little attention to the issue. This exploitation of immigrants is something which should be resented by all but unfortunately this is by far not the case.

There is a debate that these immigrants capture jobs and the local population is facing a shortage of employment opportunities. As discussed earlier they are cheap to hire and that’s why preferred by the employers. And after the recent economic crisis the local population is extremely disgruntled by the situation. This is also a downside of the issue of immigrants and this is also a problem our society faces. We are at the brink of economic collapse, with Greece defaulting and Europe in crisis it will not take long for the crisis to hit the United States of America.

This situation is not good as it will give rise to conflict between different groups of the society. These conflicts also shape policies regarding immigrants. But the main influence of this situation is that people are developing feeling of hatred for these people. This lack of instinctive liking and acceptance will be detrimental for the society. The distinction between ‘us’ and ‘others’ will result in social turbulence and violence as history tells us that whenever this distinction is enhanced it has invited some cataclysmic event.

The situation that is shown in the movie Sleep Dealer is not very different from the present time. The only difference is that the corporations and the companies have found new ways to use the immigrants to the best of their advantage. The movie tells us that these corporations have developed robots that work in the developed nations and are controlled by the labors and workers of Mexico. This is the future which Rivera predicts in his movie.

The accuracy of this predication is not the point of concern but we can witness the speed of our moral degradation so nothing can be termed impossible. The use of immigrants for the benefit of few will continue in the future and more and more people from poor backgrounds and countries will fall for the traps of the multinational giants.

Immigrants will also increase as the poverty ratios are going up and more and more people are getting poorer. The families will have no option but to send their children and adults to jobs. This will increase the difference between the rich and the poor, and poor people will increase their struggle to get rich. The problem with this ambition, to become successful, is that success is measured in this world in purely materialistic terms. The amount of money a person earns is the predictor of his or her success. This will eventually lead our society into an ever going race for money and this will not be helpful for nay faction of the society. Difference between right and wrong will be forgotten, desires will never be satisfied. This will be the ultimate downfall of humanity.


The film Sleep Dealer by Alex Rivera has raised many questions on the future of our world. The notion that the future of humanity is bright and shining is rejected and a picture of the future world is presented which gives goose bumps to everyone. The social satire by Rivera is an attempt to realize the world about the plight that is waiting for them in the near future. The horrors of immigration and labor and technology are shown and the evils of capitalism are depicted. The film has put forward an interesting argument that the technology that is hoped to increase the welfare of the society will actually provide basis for the slavery of mankind.

The real life situation is not very gleeful and social issues like poverty and labor are troubling the people of the world so much that our very future seems to be uncertain. The economic downfall and the moral corruption is something which has plagued our systems and there is very little hope for change.