“The Killing Floor is a truly compelling, blistering, and vital historical document.”
Jen Johans, Film Intuition
Praised by The New Yorker as "a revelatory historical drama" and by The Village Voice as the most “clear-eyed account of union organizing on film,” THE KILLING FLOOR (1984/1985) is the first feature film directed by Bill Duke and explores a little-known true story of an African American migrant in his struggle to help build an interracial union in the Chicago Stockyards. The screenplay by Obie Award-winner Leslie Lee is from an original story by producer Elsa Rassbach and is based on actual characters and events, tracing ethnic and class conflicts seething in the city’s giant slaughterhouses, when management efforts to divide the workforce fuel racial tensions that erupt in the deadly Chicago Race Riot of 1919.
Many reviewers have praised The Killing Floor for its approach towards illuminating history through drama and for the strong sense of authenticity it achieves. At the same time, the film uses self-reflective (distancing effect) techniques, as Brody notes elsewhere in his review, both "to set off the dramatizations as latter-day artifices and to verify them as authentic parts of the historical record."
A key theme of the film is racial and class solidarity: both how essential it is for progress to be made and how difficult it often is to achieve. Likewise, solidarity was key in the development of the content and style of the film through an unusual collaboration of African-American and white artists, scholars and intellectuals. And solidarity also played an important role in making the production of this ambitious historical drama financially viable on a very modest public television budget.