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Analysis of the documentary Harlan County, USA

Paper type: Analysis
Pages: 4 (941 words)
Categories: Usa
Downloads: 20
Views: 314


The movie’s main focus is the real-life documentation of a strike stages by miners in the Brookside Mine versus Duke Power Business, a big energy company in the United States, for its supposed unfair labor practices, unsafe working conditions, and low salaries. It also highlights the absence of reaction of the United Mine Workers of America (UWMA) towards the plight of the workers.

Generally, film director and producer Barbara Kopple, together with her team, spent years with the miners and their households represented and documented their poor working and living conditions.

She followed them as they rallied in front of the New York stock exchange and also interviewed miners impacted by black lung illness or coalminer’s pneumoconiosis. The film also documented that main source of discord in between the business and the miners was the no-strike stipulation in the agreement, which was ultimately gotten rid of.

Moreover, the film also demonstrated how the company increased its earnings by more than 100 percent while the miners only received a 4 per cent pay increase regardless of the 7 per cent increaese in the expense of living in the same year.

Major components likewise shown in the documentary include the frequency of c and w, which has more or less been among the themes of the whole strike. Nevertheless, the most substantial occasions displayed in the documentary are the murders of two miners, Joseph Yablonski and his household, and Lawrence Jones. Their deaths ultimately changed the tide for the miners as the management finally a consented to organize a bagain with them, ending the strike.


1. What elements could have caused the company to exploit the miners the way they did?

2. What were the possible social and economic factors that compelled the miners to continue working for the company prior to finally staging a strike?

3. In what ways is the film an essential cultural masterpiece and an eye-opener to society?


1.  In general, there are a number of factors that come into play with regard to the exploitation of miners in the film.  First is the human factor since Duke Power Company is run by humans. Therefore, they are prone to temptations, sin, and emotions, among many others. In addition, the socio-economic status of the miners played an important role in pushing their employers to exploit them. For example, as shown in the documentary, the almost of all of the miners are impoverished.

So when they were able to find employment as coalminers, they possibly saw it as a golden opportunity for them to make a living and improve their conditions which is why they agreed to work for the company without considering the unfair labor practices at the time. Seeing that the miners are seemingly eager to find work, the company willingly exploited them by providing them with dangerous working conditions and low wages. In a way, it would even appear that the miners were indebted to the company for providing them with jobs.

2. Poverty is clearly one of the most significant economic factors that compelled the miners to work for the the company. As shown in the film, the miners experienced some of the worst living conditions. Almost of all do not have sufficient water and food, among other basic necessities. Seeing that they were in dire need of means to improve their lives, they willingly allowed themselves to be exploited so long as they are able to make a living (Biskind n.p.).

However, as depicted in the documentary, the miners were unaware of the poor working conditions that awaited them, which included the no strike clause in their contracts, which was eventually removed. However, in a way, the miners felt that the clause in the contract initially meant that their place in the company is secure and there will never be any need for them to stage a strike. But eventually, they realized that the strike prevented them from influencing the labor practices of the company and this is why they pushed for its removal.

3. The documentary as a whole serves as an important cultural piece and an eye-opener mainly because of the painful reality that it depicted. Aside from the impoverished miners, the documentary also captured on film true to life events such as imprisoned strikers, rioters, violence, courtrooms, and even murder. It can also be said that the documentary had a more human side to it, as director Kopple took various risks by attending the actual strikes and pickets and also interviewing the members of the miners and their families.

Aside from showing the plight of the miners, it also depicted how people with little to no education are abused and exploited by those who rank higher in society. Most of all, the strength of the film lies heavily on its moral authority (Biskind n.p.) as it does not simply portray heroes and villains, but simply the truth and the lessons to be learned from it.


Over-all, I believe that the document is a highly essential piece that depicts the realities of one of the poorest working classes in the country- the coal miners. I am sure that most people, myself included, are not aware of the dangers that accompany the job such as black lung disease, which is fatal. In general, I believe that the the film was successful in depicting how these coalminers risk their lives to ensure that the homes and businesses of thousands of Americans are supplied with electicity and power and therefore, they more than deserve, at the very least, safe working conditions, fair labor practices, and higher wages.

Cite this essay

Analysis of the documentary Harlan County, USA. (2016, Sep 06). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/analysis-of-the-documentary-harlan-county-usa-essay

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