Kathleen Hughes, Bill Moyer, Tom Casciato
Kathleen Hughes and Bill Moyers
Film Briefing Notes
Our brief synopsis of the film, and a summary of the issues it raises.
Further Reading More about Milwaukee
Read suggested reviews
Film Issues at Stake
Inequality, Poverty line, Middleclass Economy
The Film Night
This is a poignant and powerful documentary. In The New Yorker George Packer wrote that this film “…will take its place among the central documentaries of our time”, while Brian Lowry in Variety declared that Two American Families “demands to be seen and discussed”.
The film documents the lives of two Milwaukee working class families from 1992 to 2012. With compassion and insight, Bill Moyers narrates the film and conducts the interviews. Their stories are the focus, but Moyers also locates their situation in the local and national economic context. Their stories are the stories of many millions of Americans.
In 1992 we are introduced to two families, one black and one white, the Stanleys and the Neumans. They had been living comfortably and felt economically secure with plans and hopes for the future. Their jobs were in manufacturing, were unionized and offered good incomes and benefits. But their employers moved their operations overseas, and these once-secure jobs are lost.
The Stanleys are a black family of seven, headed by Claude and Jackie. Formerly employed at a major chassis-making company, Claude takes on a job waterproofing basements which pays half of what he was earning previously and without benefits. Jackie loses her job at an engine manufacturer. After much struggle she gets a realtor’s license and tries to sell houses in a declining housing market.
Claude Stanley is also a preacher, and throughout the film we see how the family is sustained by their religious beliefs. But faith doesn’t pay the bills, which mount further when Claude has an illness that leads to unexpected and costly medical bills.
Tony and Terry Neumann are a white family with three children. Tony, who used to work for the same manufacturer as Jackie Stanley, gets a factory job, working nights for low wages and hardly ever manages to see his family. Terry, who had been a stay-at-home Mom, takes on a variety of jobs, all of them low-waged and offering no benefits or prospect for advancement.
We watch their resouceful struggles to survive. Over the 20 years we encounter them, they remarkably show fearsome perseverance and amazing adaptability in undertaking training and new jobs in difficult economic conditions. But the American Dream they all believed in at the beginning continues to elude them.
About the film night speakers
Peter Kingstone (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley. B.A. Swarthmore) was at the time of speaking, Professor and Co-Director of the International Development Institute at King’s College London. Prior to coming to King’s, he taught Political Science at the Universities of Connecticut and Vermont (where he won the Kroepsch-Maurice Award for Outstanding Teaching). Before getting his Ph.D., he worked in the Canadian government as Parliamentary Advisor to the Honourable Jean Charest, Minister of State (Youth).
He is author of several books on Latin America, including Crafting Coalitions for Reform: Business Preferences, Political Institutions and Neoliberal Reform in Brazil, The Political Economy of Latin America: Reflections on Neoliberalism and Development, as well as co-editor of Democratic Brazil: Actors, Institutions and Processes, Democratic Brazil Revisited and the Handbook of Latin American Politics. He has published various articles and book chapters on the subject of democratisation and the politics of neoliberal economic reforms.
Alongside his research focus on Latin America, Professor Kingstone has had a continuing interest in the debates on American political economy and its relation to increasing inequality in the U.S. He has taught this subject to U.S. undergraduate students for over 10 years. He spoke and led the Q&As at the Film Night screening of Robert Reich’s Inequality For All.
Dr. Antoine Rogers was, at the time of speaking, an Associate Professor in Sociology at London South Bank University. Antoine is a Chicago native; a qualified social worker and a survivor of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. The research leading to his PhD was a comparative analysis of urban social service charities in Chicago and Birmingham U.K. His work critically reflects on identity and personal experiences as a source of knowledge and understanding. He is especially interested in qualitative research methods and LGBT issues. His most current research project is with the London Metropolitan Archives and evaluates the role that an inclusive collaborative approach in digital platform design plays in the facilitation of greater virtual and real life engagement with cultural archives among members of marginalized communities.
Antoine’s most recent publication is an edited collection (2015) on Sexuality, Citizenship and Belonging: Trans/National and Intersectional Perspectives. He also wrote Crossing Deep Waters: Transatlantic Reflections Black Gay Men and Journeys influenced by ‘In The Life’ as part of the edited collection from Stephens and Fullwood (2015) Black Genius: Joseph Beam and In the Life. Antoine is diligently working on his first solo book, The Evidence of Existence which explores the intersection of race, sexuality and national identity. He spoke and led the Q&As after the Film Night screening of Streetfight.
Follow up: What happened to the Two American Families?
Two months after the filming ended Terry Neuman was asked why she took part and she said, “I hope the film will make a difference. That people will stop sniping at one another and get together and come up with something that works for all people…I wish I could have a beer with President Obama and make him see what’s happening.”
About the Writers
Excerpt from Press Release: Two American Families
Kathleen Hughes is an Emmy Award-winning producer, director, writer and television executive, Kathleen Hughes is the co-Executive Producer of Okapi Productions, LLC. She has also created critically acclaimed nonfiction television programs that have appeared on PBS, ABC, CBS and NBC. From 2008 to 2011 she served as the Executive Producer of WNET’s multi-platform series Blueprint America. At Blueprint she oversaw the creation of reports about America’s crumbling infrastructure for a wide range of public media outlets. In 2008 Her 90-minute PBS special with Bill Moyers, “Buying The War” was called “one of the most gripping and important pieces of broadcast journalism this year” by the Washington Post. With Tom Casciato, she has produced, directed and written many Bill Moyers documentaries.
Bill Moyers is a broadcast journalist for more than four decades, with more than 30 Emmys and nine Peabodys to his name, Bill Moyers began his latest media venture in January 2012 with the launch of Moyers & Company on air and online at BillMoyers.com. His previous productions have included NOW with Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal, Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, Moyers on Addiction: Close to Home and Moyers on America. He received the PEN USA Courageous Advocacy Award for his commitment to freedom of speech and his dedication to journalistic integrity. He currently serves as president of the Schumann Media Center, a non-profit organization that supports independent journalism.
Tom Casciato is an Emmy Award-winning producer, director, writer and television executive, Tom Casciato is the co-Executive Producer of Okapi Productions, LLC. He has also has created critically acclaimed nonfiction television programs that have appeared on PBS, ABC, NBC, TBS and Showtime. He worked at WNET from 2006 until early 2012, serving variously as Director of News & Current Affairs and Executive Producer of two PBS series, Wide Angle and Exposé: America’s Investigative Reports. With Kathleen Hughes, he has produced, directed and written many Bill Moyers documentaries.
Background image from here, A scene from the 2000 PBS Special “Surviving the Good Times” with Bill Moyers.
More about Milwaukee
An excellent review by Danny Dorling in The Guardian (March 7, 2016) quotes Desmond’s conclusion:
“This degree of inequality, this withdrawal of opportunity, this cold denial of basic needs, this endorsement of pointless suffering by no American value is this situation justified. No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”
Dale, Daniel. “Back in time: America’s most segregated city.” The Star. January 25, 2016.
Gauber, Bill and Crowe, Kevin. “Poverty keeps tight grip on Milwaukee, new census figures show.” Journal Sentinel, September 16, 2016.
Rohde, David. “Free-Falling in Milwaukee: A Close-Up on One City’s Middle-Class Decline” The Atlantic. December 16, 2011.
Brockes, Emma. (2013, July 11). “We went backwards”: Two American Families, one broken American Dream. The Guardian. “Anyone with doubts as to the ongoing resourcefulness of ordinary Americans should watch the Frontline documentary Two American Families.”
Lowry, Brian. ( 2013, July 5 ). Review: ‘”Two American Families.” Variety.
Packer, George. (2013, July 1). The Fall of the American Worker. The New Yorker. “… the intellectually honest response to this film is much less comforting, for the overwhelming impression in “Two American Families” is not of mistakes but of fierce persistence: how hard the Stanleys and Neumanns work, how much they believe in playing by the rules, how remarkable the cohesion of the Stanley family is, how tough Terry Neumann has to become”.
On the issues
Democratic Party resources
President Obama. The 2016 Economic Report of the President. February 22, 2016.
Hillary Clinton. A plan to raise American incomes.
Bernie Sanders. Income and Wealth Inequality.
Overviews on the issues of trends in inequality:
On the Equality of Opportunity Project website are papers analyzing the trends in inter-generational social mobility over time and according to geographical location. They also compare the USA patterns with other developed societies.
Even Wikipedia can provide some good overviews, e.g. “Income Inequality in the United States”
Overviews on the hollowing out of the US middle class:
Chen, Victor Tan. All Hollowed Out: The lonely poverty of America’s white working class. The Atlantic. June 16, 2016.
The Pew Research Center offers a number of good overviews:
– “A Rise in Wealth for the Wealthy; Declines for the Lower 93%: An Uneven Recovery, 2009-2011. April 23, 2013.
Featured image from PBS.org
Disclaimer: The screening of this film does not constitute an endorsement or promotion of the film, nor of any views expressed therein or any association with The Film Committee, DAUK, Democrats Abroad or the Democratic Party. Screenings are solely conceived as educational activities: offering an opportunity for members to discuss issues.
Links to other organizations or publications imply neither endorsement of their policies nor any association with the Democratic Party or Democrats Abroad – UK.