One of the big steps in drawing inequality back onto the political agenda was the publication of the Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level in 2009. It showed the correlations between inequality and a variety of social problems, demonstrating the corrosive nature of inequality on society. Whether you agree with their arguments or roll your eyes at the mention of the book, there’s no denying it’s been influential.
A few years ago there was a crowdfunding campaign to make a documentary based on the book’s ideas, something that would reach people who were never likely to pick up a book on inequality. I wrote about it here. It met its funding targets and disappeared for a while, popped up on the festival circuit last year and finally reaches the rest of us: The Divide, in cinemas now.
Director Katharine Round has chosen to put human stories at the heart of the film, rather than focus on the statistics: “The book was a fascinating exploration of the relationship between rising income differences and various social outcomes, told through a variety of graphs and charts. When I saw those charts it struck me that every point on those graphs represented millions of ordinary lives – the charts had a human meaning beyond a mere statistical correlation.”
With that observation as a starting point, the film weaves together the lives of 7 ordinary people in the US and Britain, along with interviews and news footage. It seems to be getting good reviews, and you can catch it in the next few weeks if you’re lucky enough to have a non-multiplex cinema where you live.
Oh, and if find yourself five minutes in and wondering why it’s set in a post-apocalypse New York City, you’re watching the wrong The Divide.