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By Dana Reinoos
Shimu, the 23-year-old protagonist of director Rubaiyat Hossain’s Made in Bangladesh, could be the face of global capitalism: a young woman who works punishing shifts at a textile factory for paltry wages on which she cannot even afford rice for herself and her unemployed husband. When a fire takes the life of one of Shimu’s coworkers (and injures Shimu, among others), she can no longer abide the cruel conditions. “What if it had been me?” a co-worker asks, and that question hangs in the air as the women cycle through grief, outrage, anger, and, eventually, hopelessness. Not only that, but the factory is closed and Shimu is refused even her small pay. So when a labour advocate approaches Shimu to organize the workers, she readily agrees, but it’s not smooth sailing convincing her retaliatory bosses or her intimidated co-workers that a union is necessary.
Director Rubaiyat Hossain has an impressive pedigree that blends filmmaking skill with real-world advocacy: she has been a social-science researcher, a professor, and has worked with feminist organizations in her native Bangladesh, and her previous features Meherjaan (2011) and Under Construction (2015) both portray modern Muslim women pushing for self-determination against the dead weight of traditional values. With every tear and drop of sweat on screen, Hossain reminds us that we are complicit in acts of global violence, but also that communities can fight back together. With Made in Bangladesh, Hossain has crafted an urgent cry for workers’ rights, and a vision of feminist solidarity in the face of overwhelming opposition. And with her majority-women crew (including a female cinematographer, editor, and production designer, among others), she is actively creating the ideal she portrays on screen.